Mexican stuffed shells (6-8 servings)

Back in college, my roommate Jess and I had a habit of opening the fridge, taking stock of the unused ingredients inside, and asking, "What could I make with _____, _____, _____, and _____?" (One particularly sketchy combination of random ingredients caused her to shudder and reply, "Danger.") Today's recipe was inspired by a similar situation: Bryan's request for stuffed shells and my need to use up a tub of homemade pineapple salsa from his coworker and some Celebrity Dairy chipotle goat cheese.

I started thinking about what kinds of molto loco Italian-Mexican fusion recipes I could create. Which ingredients are well loved in both Italy and Mexico? Why, cheese, tomatoes, and oregano, of course! And thus, Mexican stuffed shells were born. The cheese inside the shells is flavored with some traditional Mexican flavors, and chunky, colorful salsa takes the place of marinara sauce on top. Colorful, creamy, and comforting, this dish is satisfying on any continent.

Click here for a printable recipe.

You will need:

  • 18-20 dry jumbo pasta shells
  • 15-oz tub part-skim ricotta cheese
  • Approx. 1/2 cup soft goat cheese (chipotle flavored, if you can find it)
  • Dash chipotle powder (if you're using plain goat cheese)
  • 1 egg
  • 1/2 tsp dried oregano
  • 1 Tbsp chopped fresh cilantro
  • 1/2 tsp ground cumin
  • 2 cups salsa, with a few spoonfuls set aside for garnish
  • 8-oz can plain tomato sauce or enchilada sauce

Steps:

  1. Preheat oven to 350°. Line a 2-quart baking dish with non-stick foil or spritz it with cooking spray and set aside.
  2. Cook pasta shells according to package directions. Once they're cooked, gently fish them out with a slotted spoon and place them on a tray lined with foil to cool.
  3. While shells are cooking, mix the cheeses, egg, herbs, and spices in a medium bowl, adding in a dash of salt and pepper. In a separate bowl, stir the salsa (minus the garnish portion) and tomato sauce /enchilada sauce together.
  4. Spread a few tablespoons of the salsa mixture across the bottom of the prepared baking dish. Once shells are cool enough to handle, fill each with a heaping tablespoon of the cheese mixture. Fill shells one at a time, lining them up across the baking dish. Pour the remaining salsa mixture over the shells. Cover the baking dish with foil. (If needed, you can pause here and keep the prepared shells in the fridge overnight and bake them the next day.)
  5. Bake the stuffed shells for 15 minutes, then remove the top foil and bake, uncovered, for another 15-20 minutes, until bubbly and warmed through. Serve immediately.

I think you'll enjoy this cheesy, zesty comfort food. Salute!/Salud!

Cheesy broccoli orzo (4 servings)

Sometimes my stomach's rumblings are more eloquent than my mouth's... worderings.

Some days, I excitedly plop down in front of the blog with a clever, funny, or unique intro ready to go, the words flying from my fingers almost as quickly as they flash, lightning-like, into my brain.

Other times (like right now), I thunk myself into my chair with a weary, "I guess I should update the blog," as the cursor blinks at me on the blank template, a mocking middle finger flashing in front of my empty head. "This recipe is... good," I start to type, my brain carb-addled and sun-tired from the holiday weekend. 

But maybe there's something to be said for a simple introduction for an easy yet delicious recipe. So here you go:

Pasta + cheese + broccoli = Creamy goodness.

Enjoy. (And happy day-late Independence Day!)

Click here for a printable recipe.

You will need:

  • 1 cup dry orzo pasta
  • 1 head broccoli, chopped into small florets
  • 1/4 cup shredded cheddar cheese (Gouda works nicely too!)
  • 2 Tbsp grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1 Tbsp butter
  • 1/4 - 1/2 cup milk
  • 1 medium tomato, chopped

Steps:

  1. Start a pot of water boiling for the pasta. Once the water boils, cook the orzo according to the package directions. When 3 minutes remain, add the broccoli to the boiling water. Rinse and drain the orzo and broccoli.
  2. Return the orzo and broccoli to the hot stockpot, adding in the cheeses, butter, and 1/4 cup milk. Stir well to melt the cheese. Season to taste with salt, adding more milk if the sauce becomes too thick. Fold in the chopped tomato and serve.

Zesty lemon pasta with broccoli (~3 servings)

We've all got that one friend who, no matter the event or the group of surrounding peers, can liven up any situation. Maybe you're at a interminable family dinner with the most dull of relatives, but if that particular friend is in attendance, the laughter flows freely and the times speeds by. You barely even notice how soul-crushingly boring your family is, because you're so focused on the enthusiasm your friend -- literally and figuratively -- brings to the table.

Sauce is that friend. It makes drab, predictable dishes new again! It makes ordinary ingredients taste exotic and exciting! It takes the edge off listening to your Aunt Edna tell the story about her trip to Fort Lauderdale -- AGAIN! (Okay, so maybe that last one is a bit of a stretch.)

In this situation, a bright, acidic, just-barely-decadent sauce livens up doughy noodles and nutritious-but-not-always-exciting broccoli. I based the sauce on this recipe, adding some basil and changing up the proportions a bit. If you are lucky enough to find a lemon-flavored pasta (I used Trader Joe's lemon pepper pappardelle), you'll end up with extra lemony zestiness!

You will need:

  • Half a pound of dried wide noodles (pappardelle, fettuccine, mafalde, tagliatelle, etc.)
  • One bunch of fresh broccoli, cut into florets
  • 1 clove garlic
  • 1 lemon
  • Extra-virgin olive oil
  • Fresh basil leaves
  • Grated Parmesan

Steps:

  1. Start the water boiling in a large stockpot.
  2. Meanwhile, cut the garlic clove in half and rub the inside of a large serving bowl with the garlic. (I know that sounds weird, but it gently whispers "garlic" to the dish instead of screaming in its face.)
  3. Zest the lemon and place that zest in a jar with a tight-fitting lid. Cut the lemon in half and squeeze the juice into the jar. Finally, pour in an amount of olive oil equal to double the lemon juice you were able to squeeze out. (Just eyeball it.) Season with salt and pepper, put the lid on securely, and shake the heck out of it.
  4. Once the water boils, cook the pasta until just al dente. Add the broccoli florets to the boiling water for the last three minutes of that cooking time. Drain thoroughly and immediately transfer the pasta and broccoli to the serving dish.
  5. Pour the sauce from the jar onto the pasta; toss gently to combine. Top with torn basil leaves and a handful of grated Parmesan; toss gently again. Serve immediately.

I'd love to try this again with roasted garlic and some artichoke hearts! Sliced black olives would probably be lovely, too.

Chipotle mac and cheese (4 servings)

What if I told you that you could make a completely dairy-free, animal-free macaroni and cheese dish that tasted like BACON? Would you call me crazy? (It's okay; I've been called worse.) 

Thanks to the ever-impressive Isa at The Post-Punk Kitchen, it's possible. And it's possibly one of the most delicious vegan dishes I've made to date.

Chipotles (smoked jalapeños) provide a bacon-y depth, while ground cashews make the dish decadent and creamy. I'll admit it: I was pretty skeptical about this one when I first found the recipe. I've had plenty of bowls of rich, gooey macaroni and cheese concoctions over the years (especially since moving to the South), and I wasn't sure how a dairy-free version would turn out. This version is a beautiful species of its own and shouldn't be made with the intention of fooling anyone into thinking it's made with real cheese or bacon. However, it is equally satisfying -- just in its own lovely way.

Isa's version called for miso in the sauce, but after scouring the Internet for ways to replace miso (I didn't want to buy a whole tub for one recipe), I found I could use tahini instead. Also, because Bryan isn't a fan of Brussels sprouts, I replaced them with roasted broccoli, which I think actually worked quite well, as the sauce soaked into the broccoli florets and infused them with flavor.

You will need: 

  • 8 oz dry macaroni (I used brown rice pasta but would recommend something sturdier)
  • 1 lb broccoli
  • 1 Tbsp olive oil

Sauce: 

    • 1 cup raw, unsalted cashews, soaked in water for at least 2 hours
    • 2-4 chipotles in adobo, seeded (I used 2!) 
    • 1 cup vegetable broth
    • 2 cloves garlic
    • 2 Tbsp nutritional yeast flakes
    • 2 Tbsp sesame tahini

    Steps: 

      1. Preheat the oven to 425° F and start a pot of water boiling for the pasta. Cut the broccoli into florets and wash/drain. Toss them with the oil and a dash of salt, and spread them out on a baking pan. Roast for 18-20 minutes, or until they're lightly browned on the edges.
      2. While the pasta water is working on boiling, make the sauce. Drain the cashews and place them, along with the rest of the sauce ingredients, into a blender or the bowl of a food processor. Blend until the sauce is totally smooth. (If you're using a food processor, it might not get totally smooth. Myeh. Still tastes good.) Taste for salt.
      3. Cook the pasta according to the package directions. Drain and place it back into the pot. 
      4. Ideally, the broccoli should be roasted by this point so that you can immediately add it into the pot with the pasta. Pour the sauce over the pasta and broccoli and stir gently to distribute the smoky, creamy sauce. Add salt, if needed, and serve immediately.

      One note: If you forget to soak the cashews ahead of time, you can simmer them in water in a covered saucepan for 15 minutes, and then just drain them and go from there. 

      It might have been the fault of the pasta I used, but this dish wasn't great when reheated in the microwave the next day, so try to eat as much as you can when you make it! (It won't be hard; trust me!) 

      Citrus-avocado pasta (4+ servings)

      avocado+citrus.jpg

      Whenever I can, I try to eat local and seasonal foods, but I do have a few weaknesses, and the avocado is one of them. Unfortunately, I will never be able to buy a local avocado unless I move to the Southwest, and I promised myself a long time ago that I would never inhabit a region where scorpions abound. No way. No how.

      But I attempted to make up for my avocado's 2000-mile journey by buying this recipe's other ingredients from local sources. The green onions, tomatoes, and mint all came from North Carolina. Both the ingredients and the original recipe are from Whole Foods, which has an expansive yet unorganized collection of vegetarian recipes on its website. It seemed like a nice recipe to welcome the warming weather, as it wasn't too creamy or heavy and featured the summery flavors of citrus and tomato. 

      You will need:

      • 1 lb. bow tie pasta (I had to use spaghetti because it's all I had!)              
      • 3 green onions, chopped (white and green parts)
      • 3/4 cup crumbled feta
      • 2 Roma tomatoes, seeded and chopped
      • 1/2 cup packed chopped flat-leaf parsley
      • 1 Tbsp chopped mint leaves (opt.)
      • 1/3 cup lime or lemon juice
      • 1/3 cup garlic-infused olive oil (I don't have that, so I just used regular olive oil and sprinkled a little garlic powder in)
      • 1/2 tsp salt
      • 1/2 tsp black pepper
      • 1 ripe avocado, pitted and cubed

      Steps:

      1. Cook pasta according to package directions. Rinse but do not drain.
      2. While pasta is cooking, prep the green onions, tomatoes, parsley and mint, and avocado. Whisk the oil and lemon/lime juice together (or shake in a jar) and set aside.
      3. Once the pasta is drained, place it in a large mixing bowl. Add in the green onions, feta, tomatoes, and parsley/mint, and toss gently. Drizzle the oil mixture on the pasta and toss again. Season with salt and pepper and top each serving with avocado.

      The original recipe wanted me to toss the avocado with the other mix-ins, but I was afraid it would get too mushy. Besides, I like the look of it piled on top of the pasta. I'd suggest chopping it last, as it will turn brown if it sits too long (the same goes for the mint leaves). Bryan skipped the avocado on his portion, and he still loved it, so if you're not a big fan of avocado, I'm sure you can leave it out.

      I didn't realize I was out of shaped pasta until the water was already boiling, but I'd definitely recommend using bow ties or something curly instead of spaghetti. The noodles were too slippery, and it was difficult to get a bite of everything on my fork at once! But hey, it still tasted good. I used all lemon juice this time, but next time, I want to try using a combination of lemon and lime. I liked that the sauce was light but not overly citrusy. I think this could make a nice room-temperature pasta salad for a summertime picnic!