Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Ricotta, Spinach and Artichoke Stuffed Shells with Marinara

Since this got SO many hits of approval on Facebook, I have to share my recipe. Sorry, Jamie G - there is no video to accompany the recipe. But next time, I'll try to remember to set up the video camera and capture another LBDelicious how-to-moment.

Ricotta, Spinach and Artichoke Stuffed Shells with Marinara

First, bring a large pot of water to a boil. When it has reached boiling, generously salt the water (couple handfuls) Add about 14 jumbo shells, and cook for about 8-9 minutes, until almost al dente (it's okay if they're not completely cooked through; they will continue to cook in the oven).

Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 375 degrees, and prepare the filling, which is:

1 15 oz container of ricotta cheese (low fat is fine)
about a handful of grated parmesan cheese
about 2 handfuls of shredded mozzarella cheese
salt, pepper & Italian seasoning to taste
1 egg
almost a can of quartered artichoke hearts, drained of brine, rinsed, squeezed out of any moisture, and chopped into bits
1 10-oz package of frozen spinach, defrosted (microwave for 3 minutes on high) and squeezed of any moisture

Combine the above ingredients in a medium-sized bowl; my tool of choice for this is a fork. I find that mixing the ricotta first with seasonings, parmesan and egg, then the artichokes and spinach works perfectly.

By this point the shells should be about done. Drain, and allow to cool to the point that you can handle them. Prepare a baking dish by coating with cooking spray and pouring about 1/2 - 3/4 cup jarred tomato sauce (Barilla tomato & basil is my personal preference) on the bottom of the pan. Stuff each shell with about 2 small spoonfuls of the mixture. Position shell-side down in the prepared pan. When the pan is full or you run out of filling, top the shells with the remaining jar of sauce (use a spoon for even sauce distribution). Then top with another couple of handfuls of shredded mozzarella and a generous shower of parmesan. Cover with foil, bake for 40 minutes. Enjoy!

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Hot Chocolate

As I am writing this, I'm savoring a simply delicious, steaming mug of hot chocolate, topped with marshmallows, vanilla whipped cream, and cinnamon. I rarely drink hot chocolate, but every time I do, I think about one particular childhood memory.

Having hot chocolate was a rare treat in the Daws house growing up. I primarily remember drinking Swiss Miss instant hot cocoa on snow days. Do you know how many snow days we had in north Alabama during my school years, 1986-1999? About 5. But, one of those times it legitimately snowed (6 inches!), school was cancelled, and all was well with the world. Heath and I bundled up in winter coats and warm hats, and headed outdoors to play. I soon learned that snow is particularly fun when you live on a small farm with a lot of hills and your dad is a fearless redneck.

You probably think I'm going to tell you we went sledding. Wrong! We didn't have a sled, and the garbage can lids just weren't cutting it. But, we did have a 4-wheeler, some rope, and a plastic swimming pool leftover from the summer.

You see where this is going. And I promise I am not making this up.

Dad tied the plastic swimming pool to the back of the 4-wheeler with the rope, instructed Heath and I to get in, and it was all over after that. Riding in the swimming pool tethered to the 4-wheeler he drove (which I'm sure was totally safe), we bounced up and down some pretty big hills, faster than we ever should have been going. It was so. much. fun. I remember our little noses and hands felt like they were going to fall off, they were so cold, but we could've stayed out there being pulled around on the 4-wheeler for hours.

When we finally were forced to go back inside, mom (being the good mother she was/is) had a steaming cup of Swiss Miss hot cocoa topped with marshmallows ready for us to drink to warm us up. Heath and I plopped in front of the tv and watched some Price is Right, drank our hot chocolate, and talked about what an awesome day we were having. I think we were even allowed to bring the cat inside, which was an extra special treat for us.

And that's why, whenever I drink hot chocolate, I think about the snow day we had that resulted in being pulled around in our redneck snowmobile. Today's hot chocolate is filled with a little less adventure (lesson planning, and trying to figure out what to do to get us out of the house today), but is completely stellar in its own little way. It's divine. Dave said it was the best hot chocolate he's ever had. And he doesn't throw such compliments around loosely! Make this, instead of Swiss Miss or heated up Nesquick, next time you get the craving to drink a candy bar.

LBDelicious Hot Chocolate

First: prepare some whipped cream. That involves pouring some heavy cream in a bowl, and whipping it with a hand mixer until it's, well, whipped cream. Stir in some vanilla extract towards the end for a nice touch.

Next: In a medium saucepan over medium-high heat, warm up 2 cups of milk, 1 cup of half & half, and about 1/3 cup sugar, until the sugar starts to dissolve. Stir in 2 tablespoons cocoa powder and 1 teaspoon instant espresso. Whisk gently to combine the cocoa and milk, and then add about 2 ounces of dark chocolate chips and half of a Ghirardelli semi-sweet chocolate bar, cut into shreds. Whisk to combine, and allow to come to barely a simmer. Turn off the heat, whisk in a splash of vanilla extract, and pour into coffee mugs. Top first with a layer of marshmallows, next with the whipped cream, and then dash the top with cinnamon.

We ended up eating ours with spoons, just to mix in the right consistency of melty marshmallows and whipped cream. Enjoy!