Turkey Gobblers For Nova

Last week I had half a roll of ground turkey left over from our dinner and I wasn’t quite sure what to do with it. I thought about saving it for another recipe, but I couldn’t think of another recipe that used such a small amount of turkey so I went back to my cookbooks, kept searching and found my answer in the Three Dog Bakery Cookbook. It was Nova’s lucky day.

I ended up altering the recipe because our cornmeal was expired, but she seemed to love them regardless. I even added a bit of cheese on top to some larger cookies, and mixed in about a teaspoon’s worth of cheese when I rerolled the dough. She got a few in her birthday box and I froze the rest for later.

Turkey Gobblers (adapted from Three Dog Bakery Cookbook)

-1 C ground turkey
-2 C white flour
-1/2 C quick oats
-1/2 C whole wheat flour
-1 egg
-3 T vegetable oil
-3/4 C water
-2 t parsley, fresh or dried

  • Preheat the oven to 375.
  • In a frying pan, cook the ground turkey, crumble into small pieces. Set aside on a paper towel to drain.
  • In a large bowl, combine the flours and oatmeal; in a small bowl, beat the egg, oil and water, then add the parsley.Add the wet ingredients to the dry and mix well. Fold in the ground turkey and mix well again. If the dough seems a bit too dry, add a few tablespoons of water (I added about two).
  • Turn dough out on a lightly floured surface and knead until thoroughly mixed together. Roll out dough to 1/2-inch thick and cut out into shapes.
  • Placed on greased cookie sheets (or sheets lined with parchment) and bake for about 15 minutes, or until firm (reduce time if  your cookies are smaller). Cool, then serve. Store any leftovers in a sealed container in the fridge for up to one week, or freeze.

Nova got four cookies in her birthday box; the rest are in the freezer…


Christmas Cookies

My family has Christmas on Christmas Eve so I got to spend Christmas with my best friend Jill. We always make time to hang out when I’m in town, but this get together was extra special: I was finally able to see her new house and we were going to break in her kitchen and bake up a storm!

Jill’s house had two things I was horribly jealous about: her killer pantry and an oven that also did convection. I ooohed over the oven and excitedly told her to let me know how it works when she uses it. She just laughed, admitted she barely knew how to use the oven on its regular baking settings and that next time I was over I could break in the convection (I’ve already looked up how to cook/bake things that way and bookmarked the pages). I also drooled over her one extra large burner. I have some hefty pans that barely fit on our burners and I’m very curious how hers would handle my pans.

The pantry of my dreams…

Her microwave also does convection

We had some basic cookie supplies, but Jill isn’t as avid a baker as I am so we didn’t have a lot of basic kitchenwares we needed. Thankfully, her parents live five minutes away so we raided her mom’s kitchen and were set!

We initially set up this baking day to make a cookie we’d seen on Pinterest called Meltaways. However, we thought we were short on supplies (extra blocks of room temperature cream cheese) so we went to plan “B:” Betty Crocker cookie mixes in the pouches. I have only used the premade mixes once (I feel if I’m going to make cookies, it’s just as much work to make them from scratch), so I was a bit iffy how they’d taste. I was happy to see all the mixes called for butter (yay!). They were quite easy to make and more importantly, they tasted good. We ended up making one batch of chocolate coated chip cookies and a double batch of mint chip cookies. To make things more festive, we dyed the mint cookies red and green.

The first batch of cookies!

Our very festive mint cookies made the whole kitchen smell wonderful. It was hard to not to eat them by the handful…

We took a quick lunch break and started on the Meltaways. Thanks to her severely shattered iPhone, we’d misread the amount of cream cheese we needed….Oops.

The Meltaways claim they can be made in under an hour and we were able to make them very quickly, but the recipe we used was a little too vague. I mean, they turned out fine, but it would have been helpful to have an idea what the cookies should look and feel like when they’re done (slightly browned on the edges, set in the center, etc.) instead of just 10 to 12 minutes. The recipe calls for pressing the dough with a glass dipped in powdered sugar, but when Jill went to do it, she thought she needed to dust the dough, then press, but I suggested we lightly grease the bottom of the glass with butter, dip it in powdered sugar, press and redip in sugar as needed. She also didn’t know how thick or thin the cookies needed to be when we pressed them. The first couple were too thin, but we got the hang of it.

The ingredients are very basic: flour, powdered sugar, butter, vanilla and cornstarch. Yes, cornstarch. I’ve seen recipes that say to use/add cornstarch to make a softer cookie so I was curious to see what the dough would feel like.

Jill was VERY excited to put her canisters to use, and loves to play with flour (something that started as a child baking with her family)

The second tray of Meltaways

The dough was very soft and felt like a smoother version of play dough. It scooped out into some of the nicest looking rounds of dough I’ve ever seen. Our goal was to dye the dough yellow and do the cream cheese frosting in blue as a nod to Hanukkah, but we were using liquid coloring and our blue wasn’t what we wanted so we did purple. I wasn’t sure how much frosting to put on top, but since the frosting is just powdered sugar, vanilla and cream cheese, I knew it’d be pretty sweet so I went fairly light.

The finished product!

We were so excited to try the Meltaways, but I think all the sugar and junk food we’d eaten earlier in the day ruined our tastebuds because neither of us was too impressed with the cookie. They weren’t bad, but not as magical as we’d hoped. I brought a bunch of cookies home and had my mom and aunt try the Meltaways; they both loved them and thought they were quite tasty. I was planning to try one the following day, but the ladies had eaten all the ones I brought home.

I loved spending the day with Jill and I think it’s one of my favorite Christmas memories to date. I haven’t baked with someone else in aaaaaaaages and I’d forgotten how much fun it is. Even doing the dishes was kind of fun, and I hate doing the clean up!! We don’t know when we’ll be able to get together again, but we’ve already started planning our next baking adventure.

Sweets Swap: Peanut Butter Dreams

I’ve always wanted to do a cookie swap, but I never really think about it until it’s the holidays and everyone is too busy to participate. Mike’s work usually does a food day once a month to celebrate birthdays and quite a few people participate. I’m good friends with a couple of people from his work and had the great idea to pitch a cookie swap to them and see if they’d do it with me and to my delight, seven other ladies agreed to participate! However, we decided to put a spin on it and broaden it from just cookies to sweets of various sorts, like cupcakes and candies. We set it up as at least one treat per person because no one’s ever done one of these before and this seemed like a good way to introduce people to the format. I think if it’s successful, we’ll probably do another one the “correct way.”

Back in January 2011, I started my quest to bake/make at least half the items from the Bon Appetit Desserts book. It seemed like an easy task, but there’s only so many occasions I can bake things for, so many ingredients I can find to make some of the things or it’s just too risky to try them out before a big holiday event (and by before, I mean hearing two days before said event). As a result, I think I’ve only made three or four things out of the book. The sweets swap gave me the perfect chance to add another one to the list. I pondered for days about what to make. I had soooooo many choices–too many choices…..I eventually narrowed it down to about six choices and when I wasn’t able to make a decision, I handed the slip and various recipes to Mike and asked him to choose. He narrowed it down to maple stars and peanut butter dreams. The maple stars sounded yummy, but I wanted to branch out from cookies, so I chose the peanut butter dreams.

The peanut butter dreams were a three whisk recipe, which meant they’d be pretty tough, but I felt up for the challenge. Besides, what fun is it to always pass over a harder recipe you’ve always wanted to try? It doesn’t mean you can’t do it, it just means you’ll have to be patient and willing to try again if something goes wrong. It also means it’s a good idea to buy more ingredients than you actually need so if there is a screw up, you don’t have to run back to the store, or more likely send someone out to pick up more for you while you clean up the massive amount of mess and dishes that suddenly appeared. Don’t try to substitute cheaper chocolate or a different brand of cream cheese (or go for a low fat version). All the recipes in the Bon Appetit were thoroughly tested using various brands of ingredients and what the book lists ensures you’ll end up with a great product.

Peanut butter dreams are kind of a cross between a peanut butter cup and a truffle, with lovely crunchies on the outside. Years ago, I made truffles and they turned out well, and I had made a quick caramel sauce for tatins a handful of times so a candy that combined truffle skills, caramel and dipping seemed like a logical next step.

Helpful hint before starting this recipe: you’ll need your freezer or fridge to chill and set the chocolate so make sure you’ve got room BEFORE you start. We have a side by side model and it’s pretty nice, but it is totally against me freezer-wise. I can’t fit larger cookie sheets or larger containers in there without a lot of Tetris-like reorganizing (grabbing items for dinner that night was quite a trick) and trying to do that and make sure the centers didn’t melt was harder than it needed to be.

My first mishap was making the praline. I am very inexperienced when it comes to working with sugar for candy, and despite following the instructions and looking up extra instructions online, I still managed to seize my first batch of sugar. I was pretty upset, but it was kind of a good thing really. I was able to figure out what had gone wrong (I had sugar crystals around the edge of the pan that contaminated the batch) and what to look for the second time. Transforming sugar for candy is definitely not a process you can rush or squeeze into your day (at least not for the average person) or try when you have distractions (in my case our puppy). While it is a pain to start over, a sugar burn is VERY painful and something you definitely want to avoid at all costs! An easy way to help prevent crystals: keep a cup of warm water next to the stove and use a wet pastry brush to carefully wipe the crystals off/help them dissolve back into the sugar. I even dipped my spatula in the warm water and wiped it off occasionally to make sure I wasn’t stirring any crystals into the sugar and water. If you’re unsure if the sugar is fully dissolved, drop a tiny bit of the mixture onto your fingertips–be careful, the mix is very hot so I wet my fingertips first. If you feel any graininess, keep going! I also noticed when it gets fairly close to being fully dissolved, the mixture looks shimmery.

I’ve been successful melting milk chocolate and dark chocolate, but my first attempt with white chocolate didn’t go so well. I think my burner was too hot so my water was probably more at a boil, melting the chocolate at too high of a temperature, causing it to sort of scorch. Once I kept the water at a low simmer everything went smoothly. I also chopped the chips up a bit. Don’t forget to check how much water you have in the bottom of your pot for your double boiler, too. If you’re making a double boiler with a glass bowl set over a pot, be careful you don’t let any steam or water get into your chocolate. It’ll seize and you’ll have to start over. Using a glass bowl will also allow you to see if you need to adjust the temperature of the burner and if you have too much water in the pot (the water shouldn’t touch the bottom of the bowl).

I also discovered I am pretty awful at dipping candies. I tried the method listed in the recipe: rolling around in the chocolate, lift out with fork, tap and slide off with knife, but when I used the knife to slide it off, I ended up nicking the center and it left a hole. I tried it for a second piece, thinking maybe I just needed to get the hang of it, but I had the same issue. I remembered watching a chef stick a toothpick in the center of a truffle and dipping it with great success so I gave it a shot. I wasn’t as successful. Eventually, I went back to the fork method, but instead of sliding it off with a knife, I flipped it upside down and tapped it off. There was still a hole, but I was able to glob extra on with the knife. When I was all done, I was pretty bummed. They were not attractive. At all. There was no doubt they were handmade by a novice, but my mom said it just gave them character. I like character and all, but when it comes to food, the shallow idea of “pretty looking” would have been more appreciated. I pondered trimming off the excess chocolate with a knife once they were chilled, but to my surprise when they cooled, the chocolate had evened itself off pretty darn well. One of them was even nice enough you might have thought it came from a box of candy you buy at the store. By batch three, I switched over to a two-pronged meat fork and it ended up working the best. There was enough room to let the excess chocolate drip off and when I plopped it on the waxed paper, I didn’t gouge chunks out of the bottom. If you plan on doing a double batch, you will probably have to stop and put the centers back in the freezer or they’ll be so soft the warm chocolate will deform them. Don’t let that issue scare you from trying the recipe: there is an easy fix and no one will know about your troubles or poor dipping skills!

When you coat them in a bit of chocolate before rolling them in the praline, you can smooth out any lumps or bumps (the proof is in the pictures below; don’t forget to click on them to see my extra comments). And whatever you can’t fix that way will be hidden by the chunky bits of praline!! If you’re wondering why there aren’t any pictures of this process…..it’s messy. Very messy. My first piece of candy I dipped and rolled in the praline didn’t go as smoothly as the recipe made it seem. I had chocolate all over my hands, the praline dish and the cookie sheet. I suggest enlisting some help to make the process easier. If you do it alone, or your helper declines like mine did, use a spoon to help you roll it around and tongs to lift it out. Or, if you figure out a way to be successful using the recipe’s directions, please share your secrets with me.

I ended up with 16 instead of 18. I “sacrificed” the two that looked the worst for Mike and I to try. I certainly didn’t want to send something for the swap that tasted bad….They were delicious, even the one that had probably five times as much chocolate on it as it needed. The cream cheese made the centers nice and, well, creamy and helped to balance out all the sweetness. They were worth all the troubles and effort they require. I decided to make a double batch the next day so the sweets swap participants could have more than just two. Two just seemed too small to give for the swap, and I figured if I have to measure everything out and do all the steps once, it’s not that much more work to do it twice.

I was able to coat all three batches of candy with the first batch of praline I made, and still had quite a bit left over. I imagine the ground up batch would be delicious over ice cream. I brought the second batch of unground praline back to Minnesota with me and my mom, aunt and I ate it like candy.

I had taken a huge risk by sending such a complicated, time consuming recipe (printed out, the recipe was two pages), but knew I made the right choice when a few of the swap participants gave the candies excellent feedback. I will no doubt make these again in the future, and I hope it will convince me to be brave and try some other types of candy, but I will definitely look for better tools and supplies. Having the right tools for the job always makes things easier. Nebraska is lovely, but not really the place to look for the majority of the higher quality ingredients or supplies I need. I could have gotten what I needed off Amazon, but that’s not an option when you need them right now. I’m hoping while I’m back in Minnesota, I can hit up Lynn’s Cake & Candy Supply and stock up on stuff, like a block or two of some Callebaut chocolate. And larger candy cups. Some of my candies were a liiiiiiiittle too big for the ones I had!

If you decide to make these lovely little candies or another type of candy, please share your results/issues/questions!

Peanut Butter Dreams (makes about 16-18, from Bon Appetit Desserts)

  • 3/4 C powdered sugar, plus more for dusting hands
  • 1/3 C super-chunky peanut butter (NOT old-fashioned or freshly ground)
  • 2 oz Philadelphia-brand cream cheese, room temperature
  • 2 oz high-quality white chocolate, melted and cooled (ex: Callebaut, Lindt or Ghirardelli)
  • 2 T (1/4 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 12 oz high-quality milk chocolate, chopped (ex: Callebaut, Lindt or Ghirardelli)
  • Peanut Praline (see recipe below)
  • 18 (about) paper candy cups


  • Double boiler
  • Scale
  • Waxed paper
  • Baking sheets
  • Candy thermometer (optional)
  • Mixer
  • Food processor

Make the peanut praline (about 2 C):

  • 1 C sugar
  • 1/4 C water
  • 1 C roasted salted peanuts

Butter a baking sheet (DO NOT use cooking spray-it will dry long before you get the praline made and poured). Cook sugar and 1/4 C water in a heavy, small saucepan over low heat, stirring until sugar dissolves completely. Increase heat to medium and boil without stirring until syrup is deep golden brown. Mix in peanuts.
Immediately pour mixture onto prepared sheet (be careful-the sugar is very hot and can easily burn you). Cool completely. Break into 2-inch pieces. Using on/off turns, grind finely in a food processor. 

** Can be made 2 months ahead. Cover refrigerate in an airtight container**

For peanut butter-chocolate centers:

Blend 3/4 C powdered sugar, peanut butter, cream cheese, melted white chocolate and butter in a medium bowl. Freeze until firm enough to shape, about 20 minutes.

Line 2 baking sheets with waxed paper. Using hands dusted with powdered sugar, roll 1 T peanut butter mixture into a ball (you can refreeze mixture if it becomes too soft to handle). Place on 1 prepared sheet. Repeat with remaining mixture. Freeze until very firm, about 3 hours.

Stir milk chocolate in top of double boiler over barely simmering water until melted and smooth. Remove from over water. Working quickly, submerge 1 peanut butter ball in chocolate, tilting pan if necessary. Using a dinner fork, lift out candy. Tap bottom of fork on sides of pan, allowing excess chocolate to drip back into pan. Using a small knife, push candy off fork and onto second prepared sheet. Repeat with remaining balls, setting double boiler over hot water occasionally to rewarm chocolate to 115 degrees as needed. Refrigerate candies until chocolate is set, about 1 hour (reserve remaining chocolate in pan).

Line another baking sheet with waxed paper. Rewarm remaining chocolate over barely simmering water in double boiler; remove from over water. Place praline in large shallow dish. Dip half of 1 candy into chocolate, then roll around in palm to cover candy with a light coating of chocolate. Set in praline and roll gently, covering completely. Transfer to prepared sheet. Repeat with remaining candies. Refrigerate until firm. Transfer candies to paper cups. 

**Can be made 1 week ahead; refrigerate in airtight container. Let stand 20 minutes at room temperature before serving**

Food Firsts

November is almost over (seriously, how did that happen?!) and December is closer than I realized, which also means my baking frenzy is about to start!

I love to bake for anyone and everyone throughout the year, but the need to bake really kicks in around the holidays. I mean, baking is such an easy way to show others you care, and everyone (both neighbors and loved ones alike) appreciates the results. I do try and step it up a notch and do something different than peppermint whatevers or the peanut butter kiss cookies you see on numerous cookie trays, and sometimes my ambitious nature gets the best of me and my “well that looks easy” fun-loving nature turns into “why did this look fun again?” but thankfully, everything seems to work out, the finished product is tasty and all my worrying was for nothing.

November gave me a chance to expand my cooking/baking repertoire (and my mix of emotions mentioned above) whether I wanted to or not. For the first time since moving to Nebraska, Mike’s parents were going to visit his sister and we were on our own for Thanksgiving. Well, we didn’t have to necessarily be alone…he does have other siblings who would have let us join their Thanksgiving, but they also have children and their own extended families, so we decided to do our own thing this year. My first thoughts: Yay! I get to do it for two! That should make it easier!

I started making the menu in my head (which at the time consisted of pumpkin pie with whipped cream, mashed potatoes, gravy and turkey), then I asked Mike what he liked at Thanksgiving and my list grew: stuffing, green bean casserole, cranberry sauce, rolls….I wrote down everything on a sheet of paper and realized there was waaaaaaaay too much food for just two people to eat (although I’m sure Nova would have enjoyed eating any and all leftovers). Then something even more pressing entered my mind: I had no idea how to make anything but pie, rolls and potatoes. Then the further realization I’d never actually made a pumpkin pie, I just enjoyed eating it. My “fun Thanksgiving for two” bubble burst and the hardcore planning started.

And by planning I mean something like this: Look up recipe for ____________; find billions of results. Search through some, feel confused; call mom for advice. Mom gives semi-advice (“they all sound good” or “I don’t know about a specific stuffing recipe, I kind of do my own thing”), wishes me luck and I ponder on my own. I think I made about five or six attempts at a menu before my wonderful boyfriend said it didn’t matter what we had for Thanksgiving. We could have Chipotle (which at a certain point sounded like the best idea ever, except they’re closed on major holidays) and it’d be perfect because it’d be just the three of us (yay, Nova was included!). He also advised me I should go super easy and light for the meal because it was just two of us and there was no reason to stress about it so much.

It made my heart oh-so happy to hear that, but it kind of pushed me to make it even better. I mean, it’s our first “us only” Thanksgiving, it needed to be good and my need for it to be good kept my menu fairly hefty. I proudly made my grocery list, then did a double take at the loooooooong list of things I’d need for just Thanksgiving. I reworked my menu again, caving and adding a few premade items and ended up with: turkey breast, gravy, mashed potatoes, stuffing mix (which would be doctored up with some real ingredients) and pumpkin pie with whipped cream. The day we went grocery shopping, I warned Mike if the turkey failed, we would have the BEST Thanksgiving meal of mashed potatoes and pie ever. Boy oh boy was I right about the pie.

I went all out for the pumpkin pie, and used Martha Stewart’s “Pies & Tarts” book recipe (click the link for the recipe and a peek at the book–it is definitely worth buying). And in typical, fancy, impressive Martha Stewart fashion, the pie crust was more complicated than it probably needed to be but there was no way I was going to cheat and do it in an easier way. I made 48 little leaves to line my crust (I made extras just in case), carefully used egg wash to stick them on, put it in the oven to prebake, made the filling, popped it in the oven for the allotted time, pulled it out to cool and hoped for the best. I didn’t have the patience to wait until the next day to try out my pie so I cut a slice the night before Thanksgiving. Mike thought that was insane, but I liked to look at it this way: I still had half a recipe of crust and enough supplies for filling so if this pie was awful, I still had enough time to do another one before dinner tomorrow. All the fuss and work was worth it in the end. It was so, so tasty. It’s possible I ate like, 60 percent of the pie. Okay, okay, probably more like 80 percent.

Despite having stuffing mix, my guilt of not doing it “the real way” and knowing it would be tasty got to me. I used up every remaining bit of bread we had around the house, combined two different recipes and made stuffing from scratch that would serve a max of four people versus the usual 10 or more.

Overall, the meal and the panic was worth it and all was yummy. It was actually really nice to do a holiday celebration with just the two of us. Maybe we’ll have to do an early Thanksgiving for two again before the larger, family version. However, my mini feast idea kind of backfired on me: there was not enough stuffing. We had it all eaten by the next day and I happily could have eaten more. Guess next year I’ll be making stuffing for 10…I might even try to work stuffing into our meals more than just once a year–who says I can’t have stuffing with pork chops or chicken on a Tuesday night in April anyway?!

We also did not have enough turkey left over to make turkey pot pies and I’d already hunted down and bought a bunch of leeks. I knew little about leeks, except what I’ve heard/seen from cooking shows: they’re kinda hard to clean, have a mild onion flavor and look like huge scallions. Thank goodness I’m a recipe hoarder: I flipped through binder #2 and lo and behold, a recipe for pan-roasted chicken with leeks.

The shows were right because they are kind of a pain to clean (I triple washed mine to be extra sure there was no dirt anywhere), but worth the effort. Sure, the bacon they’re fried with and the cream sauce they’re used in might have helped a bit, but they’ll definitely make more appearances in our meals.

December will also hold a few baking challenges for me. I’m participating in a “sweets swap” with some of Mike’s coworkers and since there’s so few of us doing it, I’m going to pull out the Bon Appetit cookbook and see what yumminess I can find!

Produce Overload

First off, I’d like to say “hi” and thanks to the subscribers I have for sticking with me, as well as anyone else who happens to stumble upon my blog. I truly  appreciate anyone who stops by to take a peek, and it’s really fun for me to see what posts people have liked the most. I feel bad I haven’t written more posts, (especially because I had lots of fun things to write about) lately, but things have been pretty darn hectic for me.

My mom had her other knee replaced so I returned home to Minnesota in mid-June to help take care of her. She had the other knee done last year, so you’d think things would go more smoothly this year, but there was an added commitment this year: our horribly cute, still a puppy corgi, Nova would have to come to Minnesota with me. This meant having three dogs in the house and an extra “thing” to care for. The other two dogs, Indie and Pippin aren’t really super fans of other dogs and bringing a very jumpy, wanting to play all the time, wiggly puppy was hard on them. Thankfully, for the most part, they tolerate each other with no real fisticuffs, only some grrrrrrrring. They do much better when we take them outside for walks or playtime, but it’s either poured or we’ve had record breaking temperatures, limiting our outdoor time. Any free time I’d use to write a post has been filled with cooking, exercising/training all the dogs or just trying to rest instead, but we’ve finally gotten things settled down and schedules coordinated and I finally felt I had enough time to write a post I’d be proud of (granted, this one was written over a few days instead of all at once). Today’s topic: garden goodies.

My mom has a fairly decent-sized garden in our backyard, and we love to enjoy the produce throughout the summer. That being said, some items are easier to use up. Zucchinis are sadly, not really one of them. Don’t get me wrong, zucchini bread is great, and eating it raw in salads or steaming it is great and all, but after a while, there’s only so many loaves of bread (or zucchinis) you can make/eat/freeze/give away before you hit your limit.

Last year while I was home, I made stuffed shells with a  vegetable-filled sauce that used a fair amount of zucchini. Luckily, I brought the recipe with me so I was able to make it. Since we had so much zucchini, I decided to make a double batch (so don’t panic when you see the pictures and the quantities look huge compared to the amounts in the recipe) so we could eat some now and freeze the rest, fulfilling my Mother’s Day gift of making her some freezer-friendly meals to have on hand when it’s been “one of those days” and she’s too tired to cook.

I used an adapted version of Melissa d’Arabain’s recipe from Food Network Magazine, and while the original is vegetarian friendly, non-vegetarians will also enjoy it. Truthfully, it’s kind of pokey to make, but it’s well worth it, and it’s a great way to use up other produce you probably have on hand.

Cheesy Stuffed Shells (adapted version)

For the Sauce:

  • Kosher salt
  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1/2 cup grated carrot
  • 1/2 cup grated zucchini
  • 1 small onion, finely chopped
  • 1/2 cup chopped celery
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 teaspoon dried basil
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 2 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 1 28-ounce can crushed tomatoes
  • Freshly ground pepper

For the Shells:

  • 1 12-ounce box jumbo pasta shells
  • 8 ounces ground turkey/beef/sausage, cooked and cooled
  • 1 10-ounce box frozen chopped broccoli, cooked until fork tender, cooled
  • 1 1/2 cups cottage cheese
  • 1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese
  • 1 1/2 cups shredded mozzarella cheese
  • 1 large egg, lightly beaten
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
  • Cooking spray


Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Make the sauce: Heat the olive oil in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Add the carrot, zucchini, onion and celery and saute until soft but not brown, 5 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the basil, oregano, tomato paste, crushed tomatoes and 2 cups water. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer for 15 minutes. Season with salt and pepper.

Meanwhile, prepare the shells: Add the pasta to the boiling water and cook for 8 minutes; drain. Mix the turkey/beef/sausage, broccoli, cottage cheese, parmesan, 1/2 cup mozzarella, the egg and garlic in a medium bowl and season with salt and pepper.

Mist a 9-by-13-inch baking dish with cooking spray. Spread about 1 cup of the sauce in the dish. Stuff the cheese mixture into the shells and place in the baking dish, open-side up. Pour the remaining sauce over the shells. Cover tightly with foil and bake for 30 minutes. Uncover, sprinkle with the remaining 1 cup mozzarella and bake for 15 minutes. Let cool slightly before serving. Serves 4 to 6.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

At the time of this posting, we have six or seven zucchinis left, Despite my mom making quite a few loaves of zucchini bread. I fear when I check again in a few hours, we’ll magically have three or four more on the table, so I’m asking you guys: what are your favorite ways to use zucchini? Any helpful tips/tricks to get those who don’t really care for it (ie: me) to eat it without really noticing?

Homemade Snickers

After nearly four months, our basement remodel is complete! During that time, I saw Mike’s dad almost every day. He’s worked so hard (they both have really) and it looks great. I felt saying “thank you” verbally just wasn’t enough. Then it hit me: I should make him a batch of homemade Snickers, one of his favorite candies.

I found the recipe months ago on The Kitchn and actually managed to make sure I had all the ingredients on hand in case I decided to make them on a whim. I was even more excited to make them because I finally got to use the hefty five pound loaf of caramel and the double boiler my mom sent me. Truthfully I’m sorry I didn’t buy a double boiler sooner. I figured I’d never use it enough to make it worth it. Wrong. If I’d had it, I would have made more candy. It makes it much less scary, that’s for sure! I’m also glad I have a digital scale. It’s another item I thought I’d rarely use, but as I cook/bake a wider variety of items, I’m finding more and more recipes that use grams or suggest weighing ingredients for better results (like the ciabatta bread I posted about earlier).

Overall the recipe was easy to follow, it was just slow. Worst part was waiting for the finished product to chill in the freezer. Heck, once I had the caramel-peanut layer on, I really wanted to cut a few pieces off and call it good. When they were finally chilled enough, the next task was to trim the edges (make sure you have a very good, sharp knife). I was so delighted to see this after I made my first cut:


I kept all the trimmings in a bowl and stuck it back in the fridge. Big mistake! They are highly addictive. Every time I open the fridge, I casually help myself to a piece. I didn’t have a 9×6 inch pan so I used a 9×9. I should have used a smaller pan, like maybe my smaller Le Creuset dish, or doubled the recipe amounts because as you can see, they were pretty thin. However, they are so rich, it’s probably better this way. You can even make another batch of the chocolate-peanut butter-butterscotch and dip the edges so they look more like the real deal. I did try a few that way, but it made them even more rich so I left them un-dipped. I also used parchment instead of the wax paper/cling film because it fit the pan better. I got about 40 pieces out of my batch, so it’d be a great recipe to make for a holiday gathering or party (just make sure they are kept cool at all times).

For those who might want a more authentic flavor, you might want to experiment with the amount of peanut butter and butterscotch chips. Another helpful hint: it doesn’t take long for the bars to warm up and become too soft, so make sure to cut them quickly and get them back in the freezer as soon as possible.

Homemade Snickers (half recipe amounts)

7 oz milk chocolate chips
1.5 oz butterscotch chips
100 g creamy peanut butter
2 3/4 T butter
1/2 C sugar
1/4 C evaporated milk
80 g marshmallow fluff
1/2 t vanilla
3/4 C salted peanuts, chopped (or, you may substitute nuts of your choice)
1/2 pound chewy caramels

1. Line a 9×6(ish) baking dish with waxed paper or plastic wrap, making sure there is plenty of extra draped over the sides and ends of the pan.

2. Make the bottom chocolate layer: prepare a bain-marie; combine 3.5 oz chocolate, 0.75 oz butterscotch and 33 g peanut butter. Heat, stirring constantly, until melted and well combined. Pour into your baking dish, and spread in a even layer. Stick the dish in the freezer to set.

3. Make the nougat layer: combine 2 T butter, 1/2 C sugar, 1/8 C evaporated milk in a small, heavy-bottomed pot. Heat on low, stirring until the sugar has melted, and the mixture starts to bubble. Remove from heat, add the vanilla, 33 g of peanut butter and marshmallow fluff. Stir until well melted and smoothly combined, then let cool slightly. Pour into your baking dish on top of the chocolate, spread in an even layer and return to the freezer. Wash the pot you just used, too; you’ll need it for the next step!

4. Make the caramel peanut layer: Combine 1/8 C evaporated milk, 3/4 T butter and the caramels in a small heavy-bottomed pot. Heat on low, stirring frequently, until caramels have melted into the milk and butter. Keep a close eye on the mixture or your caramel can burn quickly! If it appears the caramels are starting to burn, switch back to a bain-marie. Once melted and smooth, add the peanuts. Allow to cool slightly, then pour over the nougat layer, spreading evenly and return back to the freezer.

5. Make the top chocolate layer: Prepare a bain-marie. Combine 3.5 oz chocolate, 0.75 oz butterscotch, 33 g of peanut butter and heat, stirring constantly, until melted and well combined. Pour into the dish, spread evenly and return to the freezer.

6. Leave the Snickers in the freezer for about an hour, until the top chocolate layer is hard to the touch. Carefully life the bar out of the dish using the overhanging wax paper/plastic wrap; place on a cutting board. With a sharp knife, trim the edges to make a neat rectangle, and cut the block into candy-shaped bites/bars. Place on wax paper and return to the freezer to solidify. If you want to coat the edges in chocolate, make another batch of the chocolate (see step 5), and dip the edges of each piece. Place on wax paper and return to the freezer. Store between layers of wax paper in tupperware in the freezer.

Ring-A-Lings for Gamma

Around the holidays, it always seems like I’m even more in the mood to bake for others. I mainly stick with cookies, but I have branched out into breads and yeast doughs more often this year. Breads and baked goods with yeast kind of scare me a bit, but I finally decided if I didn’t just go for it, it’d always seem scary.

Last time I was digging through my pile of recipes, I found one from my grandma (I call her Gamma) for these pastries called Ring-A-Lings (see below for the recipe). They sounded very good; kind of like an orange and hazelnut cinnamon roll. Naturally, I called Gamma and asked her about them. It turns out the recipe was from the 1955 Pillsbury bake-off competition. She raved about them, saying how tasty they were and how she made them on a regular basis. After questioning some of the instructions, I happened to mention them to my mom later that day and she also raved about how great they were. The next day I asked my aunt if she remembered them. She also gave them a fabulous review.

At that point, I knew I had to make them, but not wanting to attempt it on my own, I brought the recipe with me to Minnesota, thinking my mom would love to help make them. We had only decided to make cookies while I was home, but after scheduling a shopping outing with Gamma, we had the perfect reason to make them.

As it turned out, twisting and shaping the rolls wasn’t nearly as hard as the recipe had made it sound. And the hype surrounding them was dead on: they were crazy good. But, the most rewarding part was seeing the excitement on Gamma’s face when we brought her some to enjoy.

I will definitely make Ring-A-Lings again, but I’ll have to make a double batch so I can keep some for myself!

The finished product!

Ring-A-Lings (1955 Pillsbury Grand Prize Winning Recipe)
  • 4 to 4-1/2 cups flour
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 2 teaspoons grated orange peel
  • 2 packages active dry yeast
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1/3 cup butter
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 cup powdered sugar
  • 1/3 cup butter, softened
  • 1 cup nuts, ground  (I used hazelnuts, but pecans or walnuts would be delicious too)
  • 3 tablespoons sugar
  • 1/4 cup orange juice
Lightly spoon flour into a measuring cup; level off.  In a large bowl combine 2 cups of the flour, 1/3 cup sugar, salt, orange peel and yeast; mix well.
In a small saucepan, heat milk and 1/3 cup butter until very warm (120 to 130 degrees F).  Add warm liquid and eggs to flour mixture; blend at low speed until moistened.  Beat 3 minutes at medium speed.  Stir in remaining 2 to 2-1/2 cups flour to form a stiff dough.  Place dough in a greased bowl; cover loosely with plastic wrap and a cloth towel.  Let rise in a warm place until light and doubled in size, 40-50 minutes.
In a small bowl blend powdered sugar and 1/3 cup butter until smooth.  Stir in nuts; set aside.  In a second small bowl blend glaze ingredients; cover and set aside.
Line 2 large cookie sheets with parchment or spray with cooking spray.  Stir down dough to remove all air bubbles.  On a floured surface, roll dough to a 22×12 inch rectangle.  Spread the filling mixture lengthwise over half of the dough.  Fold dough over the filling.  Cut crosswise into 1-inch strips; twist each strip 4 to 5 times.  To shape rolls, hold folded end of the strip down on a cookie sheet to form center; coil strip around center.  tuck loose end under.  Repeat with the remaining twisted strips.  Cover and let rise in a warm place until light and doubled in size, about 30-40 minutes.
Heat oven to 375 degrees.  Uncover dough.  Bake 9 to 12 minutes or until light golden brown.  Brush tops of rolls with glaze.  Bake an additional 3 to 5 minutes or until golden brown.  Immediately remove rolls from the cookie sheets and cool on wire racks.