Cheesy Baked Chicken Penne

A baked pasta dish that screams out loud of comfort with its creamy cheese sauce, tender pieces of white meat chicken and diced tomatoes.

Chances are you have everything on hand to make it right now. Yes, this very minute.

Everyone will love it, even the pickiest of eater! It’s like a long lost friend to mac and cheese…. 

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Broccoli and Cauliflower au Gratin

Broccoli and Cauliflower au Gratin

Broccoli and cauliflower florets are smothered in a cheesy, garlic sauce and then baked off for one of the most comforting side dishes I know of. A sprinkling of bread crumbs over top forms a golden brown, crunchy crust that seals in all that molten, cheesy goodness. It’s rustic, warming and homey, just the type of thing that long, winter nights call for.

This is one of my favorite ways to eat broccoli, even though it’s low on my list of vegetables I like. Unlike cauliflower, which I naturally gravitate toward. That’s why I feel it’s safe for me to say that even the most pickiest of eaters will have a hard time turning this down. It transforms into something entirely different. And entirely delicious.

Broccoli and Cauliflower au Gratin

Broccoli and Cauliflower au Gratin
(by Reeni)

9 cups broccoli and/or cauliflower florets*
4 tablespoons butter
4 garlic cloves, minced
1/3 cup flour
sea or kosher salt and fresh pepper
red pepper flakes, optional
2 cups whole milk
2 cups extra sharp cheddar cheese, shredded
2 heaping tablespoons seasoned bread crumbs

1. Grease a deep sided 8×8-inch casserole dish. Lightly steam the florets until just tender but still firm. Add them to the casserole dish. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.

2. In a medium saucepan melt the butter over medium-low heat and saute garlic until fragrant. Whisk in flour and cook 2-3 minutes. Season well with salt, pepper and a dash or two of red pepper if desired. Slowly whisk in milk, turn up heat to medium and bring to a simmer. Add 1 + 1/2 cups cheese, stir until melted, remove from heat. Pour over the florets in the pan.

3. Sprinkle top with remaining 1/2 cup cheese then with the bread crumbs. Bake 25-30 minutes until bubbly and top is golden. Remove and allow to set for 5 minutes before serving.

*1 large head of each

Broccoli and Cauliflower au Gratin

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Pizza Pot Pies

Pizza Pot Pies

Two classics come together to make these hearty and delicious pizza pot pies. Baked in individual ramekins, they are covered in a crispy, golden crust made of pizza dough brushed with olive oil and sprinkled with Parmesan cheese. Tucked inside are some of my favorite pizza toppings including sliced Italian sausage, black olives, onions, and peppers doused generously with tomato sauce and plenty of mozzarella cheese. Like ‘deconstructed’ pizzas.

By improvising on the filling ingredients they can be easily personalized to suit any taste or craving. They are a great vehicle for reinventing leftovers whether it’s using traditional pizza toppings or more creative and modern ones. Some ideas to get you started: meatballs, chicken and broccoli, pepperoni, salami, ham and pineapple, bacon, chorizo. cooked ground beef, roasted vegetables, eggplant, artichokes, cubed potatoes, roasted red peppers, garlic and sun-dried tomatoes. You can even play around and use different cheeses like provolone or ricotta and use an alternative sauce like alfredo.

These will become a favorite for everyone! Especially kids, who will have fun digging a ‘hole’ through the crust to get to the toppings filling below. Homey and comforting, these will fill your home with mouth-watering smells and put an entirely new twist on pizza night.

Pizza Pot Pies

Pizza Pot Pies
(inspired by Giada De Laurentiis)

16 ounces Italian sausage links, hot or sweet
olive oil, for sauteing and brushing over top
1 onion, diced
1 bell pepper, diced
1 teaspoon oregano
1/2 teaspoon sea or kosher salt
1/8 teaspoon black pepper
1 can black olives, chopped
2 + 2/3 cups tomato sauce
2 + 2/3 cups mozzarella cheese, shredded
1 pound pizza dough, recipe to follow, or store-bought
olive oil, for brushing over top
Parmesan cheese, for sprinkling over top

1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Grease a 9×13 inch baking pan and add sausage links. Roast for 25 minutes or until cooked through. Remove to cutting board. When cool enough to handle, cut into thin slices.

2. To a large skillet add enough oil to thinly coat bottom, add onion and green pepper. Saute until tender. Add oregano, salt, pepper and the sausages, combine well and remove from heat.

3. On a floured counter top  or cutting board divide dough into 4 pieces, stretch or roll out with a rolling pin into circles an inch or two larger than the ramekins.

4. Grease 4-10 ounce oven-proof ramekins including outer rim. Add 1/3 cup sauce to bottom of each, followed by 1/3 cup mozzarella. Divide sausage mixture evenly between them. Cover with a 1/3 cup sauce, followed by 1/3 cup cheese. Divide olives evenly between them. Place dough circles over top and stretch over the sides pressing down to seal them.

5. Brush tops with olive oil and sprinkle with Parmesan. Cut slits in the top for steam to escape. Bake 20-25 minutes until tops are golden brown. Let set for five minutes before serving.

Pizza Dough

2 + 1/2 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
1 teaspoons sugar
2 and 1/2 teaspoons active dry yeast
1 cup warm water
2 teaspoons olive oil
1 teaspoon salt

1. Dissolve the yeast in 1/2 cup warm water and add sugar. Place in a warm spot for a few minutes then check to make sure the yeast is active. It should be bubbly – leave it until it has doubled in size about ten minutes.

2.In a large bowl add the flour and make a well in the middle for the yeast mixture and water. Add the other 1/2 cup of warm water, oil, the yeast mixture and the salt. Stir until everything is incorporated and then start working the dough using your hands. Knead the dough on a floured board until smooth and elastic about three minutes.

3. Place the dough in a well-oiled bowl and cover with saran wrap or a thin kitchen towel. Set in a warm place to rise about 1 and ½ hours or until dough is doubled in size.

4. Punch down and knead the dough again for a few minutes on a floured board. Use your hands/fist to stretch the dough to fit your pizza pan, if you have trouble stretching the dough let it relax for ten minutes.

Printable Recipe

Pizza Pot Pies

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Spicy Black Bean and Corn Tortilla Pie

Black Bean and Corn Tortilla Pie

A recipe for a savory deep-dish pie packed with all the Tex-Mex flavors I love. The filling is made of black beans, fresh corn, tomatoes, green chiles and sour cream to hold it all together. The filling is then layered just like a lasagna between flour tortillas in a deep-sided pie or cake pan and baked. It’s served with your favorite fixin’s like avocado, black olives, sour cream and shredded lettuce.

The pie is quick, easy to make and feeds a crowd. Everyone will love it! It’s a good way to spice up taco night if you’re looking for something a little different from the usual. It’s hearty, filling and undeniably delicious.

If black beans aren’t your thing you can easily swap them out for your favorite ones or for whatever you have on hand.

Black Bean and Corn Tortilla Pie

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Spicy Black Bean and Corn Tortilla Pie
(by Reeni)

1 Yellow Onion, diced
Olive oil for sauteing
4 cloves Garlic, minced
1 – 15 ounce can Black Beans, rinsed
1 heaping cup fresh Corn, cut off the cob
1 – 10 ounce can Ro-tel Diced Tomatoes with Lime and Cilantro
1 – 4 ounce can diced Green Chilies
1 teaspoon Chile Powder
1 teaspoon Oregano
1/2 teaspoon Onion Powder
1/2 teaspoon Salt
1/8 teaspoon Black Pepper
1 heaping cup Sour Cream, light or regular
8 (10-inch) Whole Wheat Flour Tortillas
2 cups Extra Sharp Cheddar Cheese, shredded
A handful of multi-grain Tortilla Chips, crushed
shredded lettuce, black olives, avocado or guacamole and sour cream for serving

1. In a large skillet saute onion in enough oil to cover bottom of pan over medium-low heat until tender and translucent. Add garlic and saute until fragrant. Stir in black beans, corn, tomatoes, green chilies, spices and salt and pepper.

2. Turn off heat and stir in sour cream. Mixture will be loose but will thicken as it cooks. Taste and re-season with salt and pepper if needed.

3. Lightly grease a 9 or 10-inch deep-sided cake or pie pan or a 8×8 deep-sided casserole. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

4. Place one of the tortillas on the bottom of the pan, and cut the second to fill in the spaces the first one doesn’t cover. Spread 1/3 of the mixture evenly over it. Sprinkle with 1/3 cup cheese. Repeat with another tortilla layer, 1/3 of the mixture and 1/3 cup cheese. Repeat again. Add another layer of tortillas, sprinkle with remaining cup of cheese and the crushed tortillas.

5. Bake about 25 minutes. Let set for 5 minutes before slicing. Best sliced right in the pan. Serve with desired fixin’s.

Printable Recipe
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Black Bean and Corn Tortilla Pie

I’m linking to this to Meatless Mondays over at my friend Chaya’s site My Sweet and Savory.

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Italian Sausage Baked Ziti

Italian Sausage Baked Ziti

Does anything say comfort better than a bubbling hot pan of Baked Ziti with Sweet Italian sausage sizzling on top? Hmmm…I can’t think of anything right now. This is my Mom’s ziti. Mom’s recipes are the best where home-cooking is concerned. This is serious comfort food for a cold Sunday afternoon dinner snuggled up where it’s warm with your family gathered around. Since we’re talking ziti I have to mention the odd recipe I saw that called for sour cream in place of ricotta. I’m not sure how I feel about it. Ziti without ricotta wouldn’t be the same for me. Ziti is all about the cheese, oodles of stringy, ooey-gooey cheese! It’s not for the faint of heart or the cheese-conscious.

Ziti is really just another form of lasagna – the same ingredients are required – only the shape of the pasta is different – the flavors are there. You might question why this is called baked ziti when penne is used. Traditional ziti are long tubes that you break up before cooking, a rare find, as they are sold already broken up nowadays. Acceptable substitutes are penne, penne rigati, and mostaciolli. Penne rigate are the best because of their ridges. Cheese and sauce stick better to them.

This feeds a small crowd, but can easily be halved or frozen to enjoy at a later date. The leftovers rock!

Italian Sausage Baked Ziti

Baked Ziti (by Reeni)
1 (16 ounce) package penne rigate pasta
32 ounces ricotta cheese
1 pound shredded mozzarella cheese
1 egg, beaten
1 tablespoon Parsley, fresh, chopped
Italian Sausage, cooked, sliced
Homemade Tomato Sauce(recipe to follow)or 1-2 large jars good spaghetti sauce like Barila
Parmesan cheese, for sprinkling on top and more for serving
Cook pasta to al dente according to package directions. Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
Spray a 9×13 inch casserole/baking dish with non-stick baking spray. Set aside.
While the pasta is cooking mix the ricotta cheese, 8 ounces of the Mozzarella, egg and parsley together in a large mixing bowl. Add the cooked, drained Ziti to the ricotta cheese mixture along with 3 cups of the sauce. Mix to incorporate the ricotta and sauce throughout. Add more sauce if needed.
Add the Ziti to the baking dish and top with the remaining mozzarella. Cover with sliced sausage or meatballs. Sprinkle with Parmesan. Bake Ziti about 35 -45 minutes or until bubbly and heated in the middle. If the top of the pasta seems to be browning too fast cover with aluminum foil.
Tomato Sauce
(by Reeni)
1 large onion, diced
1 green pepper julienned
2 tablespoons Olive Oil
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 can tomato paste
2 – 28 oz. can Crushed Tomatoes (like Tuttarosa)
1/4 cup water
2 tablespoons dried Italian Seasonings (We use a mix that has basil, oregano, thyme, marjoram and rosemary in it)
1 teaspoon dried sage
2 bay leaves
1/2 teaspoon salt (to start and more to taste)
¼ teaspoon black pepper (to start and more to taste)
Pinch of sugar
1. In a large pan sauté the onion and green pepper in Olive Oil until soft; add garlic and sauté until fragrant and tender.
2. Add tomato paste. Stir it into the onion and garlic mixture and allow it to heat through. Add tomatoes, water, and seasonings including bay leaves, salt, pepper and pinch of sugar.
3. Simmer for 45 minutes. Taste and add salt/pepper and more dried seasonings if needed. Remove bay leaves before serving.

Italian Sausage Baked Ziti

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Red Hot Macaroni and Cheese

Cajun Mac 'n' Cheese

From its humble beginnings to the endless gourmet ‘twists’ that have been thrust upon it, Macaroni and Cheese continues to reign as one of the kings of comfort cuisine!

If you like spicy foods you will love this variation on the classic. It’s simple, fast, and easy to make but tastes like you spent a lot of time in the kitchen. While the pasta boils a béchamel sauce is whisked up with a ton of spices including cayenne pepper. It’s as simple as pouring the sauce over top of the pasta in a baking pan and sprinkling bread crumbs over top. There is a nice balance between the heat and the cheesy milkiness that is totally delicious!

Red Hot Mac 'n' Cheese

Red Hot Macaroni and Cheese
(by Reeni)
8 ounces elbow macaroni
1 tablespoon Paprika
1 teaspoon Salt
1 teaspoon Garlic powder
1 teaspoon black pepper
1 and ½ teaspoon onion powder
1 and ½ teaspoon cayenne or 1 teaspoon peperoncino
1 and ½ teaspoon oregano
1 and ½ teaspoon thyme
3 tablespoons butter
3 tablespoon flour
2 cups half ‘n’ half or whole milk
8 ounces shredded or diced Extra Sharp Cheddar cheese
8 ounces shredded or diced Colby Jack cheese
Italian Bread Crumbs for topping
1 tablespoon Butter for topping
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
2. Cook macaroni to al dente according to package directions.
3. Into a small bowl measure out the seasonings and combine. Set aside.
4. While the macaroni is cooking in a large, heavy bottomed sauce pan melt the butter on medium-low heat, whisk in the flour and cook for 2-3 minutes continuously whisking. Add the spice mixture and whisk into the flour mixture. Slowly add half ‘n’ half, continuously whisking. Bring to a slow simmer and continue to whisk for another 2-3 minutes, the milk should begin to thicken up. At this point add in the cheeses and whisk until melted. Remove from heat.
5. Grease a 2 quart casserole – pour in macaroni. Pour béchamel over the macaroni.
6. Top with bread crumbs and dot with butter.
7. Bake at 350 for about 25-30 minutes until bubbly and top is golden.

Red Hot Macaroni and Cheese