Stuffed Shells

I have seen my mom make stuffed shells so many times I have lost count. Last Christmas, I even had the chance to help her make them, but we did it the night before and had a lot of time to spend on the preparation. My mom also had extra sauce in the freezer in case we didn’t have enough. Well…none of this was true for my first experience making stuffed shells and it turned out to be a true Kitchen Adventure! The experience of making these shells was one of the reasons I started writing this blog. I needed a challenge. I was feeling complacent and wanted to find something I was passionate about, enjoyed, and could share with others.

I didn’t realize how difficult it was to prepare stuffed shells for 10 people in about 2 and a half hours. I am so lucky I had my friend Gina. Yes, I have a sister Gina too! Italians do things in multiples…the names are always duplicated, people never replicated. I also have an Aunt Gina, two cousins named Concetta and an Aunt Concetta, more than a few Michael’s, Jacks, and Antonia’s, as well as many more duplicate names, so sorry if I ever confuse anyone. This is just another example of “My Big Fat Italian Life.”

Anyways, my friend Gina was my savior that day. If it wasn’t for her we would not have been able to eat dinner until midnight. As I made the sauce and the meat filling, she made the cheese filling and we both stuffed the shells once they were cooked. I knew right away, before I even put the shells in the oven that they were going to be dry. I didn’t make enough sauce and I didn’t have any extra sitting around my apartment. Lesson learned.

Cheese Filling

Ingredients:

32 oz Ricotta cheese

4 eggs

Parmesan ( a lot)

Parsley

Meat Mixture

Ingredients:

5 lbs ground beef

3 small onions

5 hardboiled eggs

2 bags of frozen, chopped spinach

Parmesan

Salt & Pepper

Hardboil your 5 eggs and set aside. Cook spinach according to package, drain completely (will need to squeeze out as much water as possible) and set aside. Dice the 3 small onions (I put them in the mixer to make them extremely thin, but this is not necessary). Brown your meat with the onions. Add salt & pepper to taste. Once cooked, combine all ingredients in a bowl and set aside.

Scramble the eggs and add parsley and Parmesan. Add ricotta and mix well. Make sure mixture is thick. Set aside.

Boil 3 lbs of jumbo shells in water. Drain and rinse. Usually, you should not rinse your pasta, but since you are baking the shells. you want to remove some of the starch. Rinse with cold water.

In baking dishes, cover the bottom of each dish with sauce. Stuff the shells in one pan with your meat mixture and the other with your cheese (you will probably need 4 baking dishes, or you can freeze what you don’t use). Once your dish is filled with stuffed shells, cover again with sauce (don’t be shy). You can top with more parmesan or shredded mozzarella.

Cover with aluminum foil and back for 30 minutes at 350°. After 30 minutes, remove the aluminum foil and back another 30 minutes. Remove, let cool for a few minutes, serve and enjoy!

Sauce:

See quick sauce recipe and quadruple it

**Make sure you have enough sauce to cover approximately 3 baking pans on the bottom and have enough to cover the top of the shells with. You will need about 3 large cans of Hunt Sauce (cl).

 

I forgot to take a picture of the cheese filled shells, but here is the finished product. Way more dry than I would have liked, but they were still good. I made three trays and two and a half were gone at the end of the night. My neighbor and his girlfriend stopped by to help out, but we did some major damage even though there was a lack of sauce.

The next night I decided to make a cream sauce (I had leftover cream in the fridge) and added it to the shells. To say they were better once more sauce was added would be the biggest understatement of the year. I was glad I got to experience them correctly and I even shared a few with some friends at work who enjoyed them with the white sauce!

Unfortunately, this is the last meal I will ever make in my wonderful apartment I have shared with three of my best friends. I can’t believe it has been a year since I packed up my Dad’s car and moved to this wonderful city of Chicago. This past year literally went in a blink of an eye. I guess when your life is throwing you curve balls left and right, you are on a non stop roller coaster of ups, downs, twists, and turns – life just happens, and it is thrilling. Even though I am moving next week, hopefully I can still have my Sunday dinners with my friends!

Stay tuned for the first cooking adventure in my new apartment!

 

Are You There Vodka? It’s Me, Lucia!

Vodka and I have had a tumultuous relationship for years, but last night I think we finally started to understand each other…

As I sat at work reading my sisters wedding menu, I had the urge to cook, and  I couldn’t decide what the perfect dinner would be. I had to do something fairly simple because I was going to get home later and still had to go to the store. As I sat and thought about all the different sauces I have been wanting to make, I had a flash back of my first experience with Vodka Sauce. And at that moment, I knew I had to make it.

The first time I ever had vodka sauce was at my favorite restaurant in Italy, Aqua al Due. Laura and I decided to share (I swear…) the pasta sampler. One of the samples was the vodka sauce and it was so good that I am pretty sure I licked my plate. I couldn’t wait to get back and try it again, but to my surprise,  the menu rotates and they didn’t have it when I returned.  Unfortunately, I never had the pleasure of trying it again. It was quite possibly the biggest heartbreak I’ve experienced to date, and I’ve had a few…

Anyway, I’ve never made a vodka sauce, so it was the perfect time to give it a go. I am not big on following recipes when I make sauce. I think it is way more fun to throw the basic ingredients in, add a few more, and see what happens, so here is Vodka Sauce a la Me.

Vodka Sauce

Vodka (I prefer Smirnoff – but maybe that is because of my budget…)

Heavy whipping cream

2 cans of Hunt’s tomato sauce (CL)

Olive oil

Pepper

Basil

3 Boneless chicken breasts

David Page’s Special Seasoning

Clean the chicken and season with David Page’s Special Seasoning. Slice into small pieces and saute in olive oil until cooked about half way (until outside is cooked). Add the sauce, whipping cream (a little less than 1 sauce can) and the vodka (I measure about 1/4 cup, but then added more once it was cooking…). Add pepper and basil. Bring to a boil, then simmer on low for about 20 minutes. I added more pepper and basil while it was cooking for more flavor.

The Sauce Cooking with the Chicken

Bring your water to a boil once your sauce comes to a boil and then add the pasta. Once the pasta is finished, your sauce should done. Pour sauce in a bowl, add the pasta, mix and serve!

When my roommates and I sat down to enjoy our dinner, little did we know the amazingness we were about to experience. I thought we would just each have a small serving and there would be leftovers for our other roommate to try when she got home…but that did not happen. It was gone. All of it. Nikki and Alyssa even discussed combining their extra sauce from their plate so that it did not go to waste. I don’t know if it was my Grandpa’s special seasoning, the vodka, or my cooking skills, but this sauce had a kick to it, and it was good. Alyssa even thought she would be able to eat it as a soup. I am pretty sure I spooned my left over sauce to finish it. There is about a cupful left over and it tempting me – even though I saved it to share with Jess…She better get home in time, or it might be gone by this weekend.

Before…

I will admit that I did not share all of the ingredients I used. It was so good, I figured that maybe one day, in my dream world, if I have my own restuarant I would be able to have this on the menu and if I share the entire recipe then everyone will know how to make it! But it shouldn’t tast much different with the ingredients included above, so I HIGHLY suggest you trying to make it!

After…

Multiply this picture times 3 because that is how many empty plates there were! This was, and still is, my all time favorite sauce. I don’t know how I am going to go without it again for so long. Hopefully I will get back in the kitchen this weekend because I have a feeling the next few weeks are going to be crazy! My sister has two bachelorette parties coming up and then I am moving into my new apartment! I can’t believe August is just around the corner….

Summer Time Pasta

One of my favorite pasta dishes is something I like to call my “Summer Time Pasta.” It is light, fresh, colorful, and most of all, delicious! Another great part of this dish is you really can add anything you want. I usually include cherry tomatoes, fresh mozzarella, and something green, depending on what I have in my refrigerator. This time I added peas, but I usually prefer zucchini.

Boil your pasta water (don’t forget to add the salt). Slice the cherry tomatoes and mozzarella. Add salt and pepper and then top with olive oil. Mix together and then add basil. I used the steam fresh bag of peas the other night, but if you are using zucchini, chop that first and lightly saute in olive oil until cooked, and then set aside.

Tomatoes and Mozzarella – Seasoned

I also used whole wheat rotini last night, but this works well with penne too. Once the pasta is cooked and drained (never rinse) mix in the tomatoes, mozzarella and zucchini (or other veggie) and lightly season with salt, pepper, and parmesan. If needed, add more olive oil. The best part about this dish is you really can add in anything you want and it turns out so incredibly satisfying!

Summer Time Pasta

Ingredients:

1 lb of Pasta

1 Steam Fresh bag of Peas (or fresh zucchini)

Tomatoes (preferably cherry)

Mozzarella

Olive Oil

Salt & Pepper

Parmesan Cheese

Cut up your tomatoes and mix with mozzarella, olive oil and salt & pepper and set aside. Boil your pasta water, add pasta and cook. While cooking make your zucchini, peas, or any other vegetables you wish to include. Once pasta is cooked, drain (DO NOT RINSE), mix with all ingredients, season with more salt & pepper if needed, add parmesan cheese and serve!

I celebrated my 24th birthday on Tuesday. I still don’t feel old though, which I am guessing is a good thing. For some reason, I can’t wrap my head around the fact that I am technically an “adult.” Anyway, my friends and I celebrated by going to the Cubs game! We were lucky enough to come across 2nd row seats and it was a perfect night for baseball and beer!

Cubs vs. Pirates – Cubs win!

They also surprised with me with yummy cupcakes from Swirlz and Sweet Mandy B’s, a beautiful necklace I have been wanting, and beer! I am pretty sure all of those things create an amazing birthday! I felt so fortunate to be able to spend my birthday with some of my favorite people, especially since I was away from my family! Thank you girls for the best birthday! Oh…and did I mention Alyssa hit the spot with Barbie plates and a Barbie happy birthday sign? Yes, I do love Barbie’s!

I hope everyone has a wonderful 4th of July weekend! I am sure there will be many cooking adventures to come after this long weekend, which hopefully will be filled with lots of good food and fun, so stay tuned!

Wedding Showers Galore

The Happy Couple – 2 months until Mr. and Mrs. Glas!

Having to travel back and forth from Chicago to Indy every other weekend has really gotten in the way of my cooking, but that hasn’t stopped me from finding some creative inspirations along the way!  I have a serious passion for food and cooking, but I also have an extreme passion in all things planning, especially parties!  I was beyond excited when my Aunts asked me to help with my sister’s wedding shower and probably went a little over board, but had so much fun with everything. I also had a great time at a couples shower my parent’s friends had Friday night!  It was a casino themed party, which included gambling, great friends, and a lot of fun!

The wonderful hosts!

The shower on Sunday was a great party and we had a beautiful day, so I could not have been any happier with how it turned out.  I think she was a little nervous that I chose hot pink as the color scheme, but I thought the room was the perfect combination of summer, fun and sophistication! Check it out below!

My mom and I found the favors while we were wondering around the Food Show a few months ago here in Chicago, and I had decided upon the cupcakes because….to be honest, they are so much more fun for an afternoon party then having some ugly plain cake no one will look at!  Everyone likes to look…and eat cupcakes though! I had found the perfect white cupcake holders while I was visiting my friend (and NEW ROOMMATE!) in Minneapolis, but when I went to order them I was too late.  I was being a little bit of a perfectionist and only wanted white, but I settled for the silver and am glad they turned out perfectly (i’m sure no one even noticed…but me).

I was fortunate enough to be able to order all of my linens and the beautiful white chair’s from A Classic Party Rental and the table idea pretty much came straight from their showroom.  I wish I could take credit for it, but I can’t! My Aunt Annette added the final touch to the party when she included a porcelain spoon to the flower bowls and we told everyone it was so they could take a spoonful of my sister Gina’s sweetness home with  them! We also had a Champagne fountain, which was my personal favorite!

I wish I had more pictures to share, but it was kind of difficult to get some great photos since I no long have a camera (broke another one!) and my wonderful iPhone screen is pretty much grey because it is too broken! I did come up with a few more shower ideas and  can’t wait to plan my next one!  I was taking bets on which cousin it actually will be to have one next, but I’m definitely liking the idea of an “Ice Cream Sunday” shower…especially because our family showers are always on Sunday!