Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Mannecoti con la Balsamella

For the Christmas party at Steve's office this year, they decided on an Italian theme, and Steve had volunteered us for a main dish and a dessert. With that in mind, I decided to do Manicotti and Pannacotta. They turned out wonderfully, and we will definitely be doing them again! Unfortunately, I didn't take any pictures of them and they are completely gone, so I will have to take pictures of them the next time we make them! I originally got both of these recipes from this site, and was really pleased with all of the very authentic Italian recipes that abounded there. It is well worth the time to check it out!

Balsamella white sauce (makes approx 6 cups sauce):
4 1/2 oz butter
5 1/2 oz flour
5 1/3 cup milk
2 1/2 oz parmigiano reggiano, freshly grated
Pinch of nutmeg

This is just a white sauce, so melt your butter, stir in your flour and then gradually add the milk as it thickens, stirring contantly. Add salt to taste (it will need it, we used between 1/2 and 1 tsp) as well as the parmigiano and the nutmeg once it has thickened up.

3 - 4 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 1/2 lb ground beef, or mix of different ground meats (beef, pork, cold cuts)
salt and pepper
3 oz parmigiano reggiano, freshly grated
pinch of nutmeg

In a frying pan put the butter and olive oil, on medium heat. When the butter starts foaming add the ground meat, salt and pepper. Cook, stirring and breaking the meat in small particles, until browned. Place the meat in a food processor and run the blade until the meat is very fine. Add 3 - 4 tablespoons of white sauce, nutmeg, and the parmigiano cheese. Continue running the blade until a soft compound is obtained. Transfer to either a pastry bag or a ziploc, with a corner cut out, to make for easy filling of the pasta.

20 dry manicotti, or no-boil cannelloni
3 oz parmigiano reggiano cheese, freshly grated

The original recipe refers to no-boil cannelloni, but that wasn't available in my grocery story so I went with regular manicotti. The instructions on the box say to boil them for 6-8 minutes, but we found that to be much too long; 5 minutes is more than enough, and allows them to maintain enough of their shape to make filling them easy.

So now you need a pan for your manicotti. The instructions say to use an 11x14, but I don't have anything that size. I managed with a 9x13, using some creative placement, but you may have a couple of differently sized pans that will work better than one large. In any case, you need to butter your pan and then put 1/4 to 1/2 a cupe of white sauce in the bottom of the pan; enough so that it is covered. Then, holding pasta in one hand and bag of meat in the other, begin filling your little tubes of pasta goodness. Be careful to avoid over-filling the pasta, as that will make it tear. If necessary, fill half-way from one side and then flip to finish filling from the other side. Place the pasta in the pan and, when full, cover with sauce. Finish with a sprinkle of the parmigiano cheese, cover with foil, and bake in the oven at 350 degrees for 30 minutes. Serve hot, and I would definitely balance the heaviness of this dish with some veggies or salad to accompany it.

Notes: I don't have a food processor, and the thought of grinding the meat up in small increments in my blender was a bit daunting. I do have a meat grinder attachment for my Bosch, though. So I actually browned my meat, put it through the meat grinder, and added my butter and olive oil afterwards so that I didn't lose any of those oils inside the Bosch (and not have them in my filling for later). I used the smallest sized attachment that I had for the meat grinder and four blades instead of two.


This is a new dish that we tried just this year for the party at Steve's office and it was just great! You can get a general idea of the dish if you think about it being the Italian version of flan. It's extremely rich; a little bit goes a long way. We really enjoyed this and Steve has specifically requested that we do it again, along with the Manicotti that I made for the main dish.

1/2 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon lemon juice
2 tablespoons water, hot

1 cup milk
1 envelope unflavored gelatin powder
2 cups heavy cream
1 slice of lemon peel
1 piece of cinnamon stick
1/4 cup sugar

To prepare the caramel, put the sugar and lemon juice in a small saucepan. Mix very well together with a metal spoon, and place over low heat. Stir the sugar-juice once in a while until it becomes dark gold and begins smoking. Add hot water, bring it to a boil, and remove the pan from the heat. Pour the caramel into a round mould approximately 7 inches in diameter and 2 inches deep; bunt pan works great. Swirl the mold in all directions so that the caramel covers bottom and sides. Set aside.

To prepare the pudding, pour the milk into a small bowl and add the gelatin powder. Set aside to soak for about 5 minutes. In a saucepan, put the cream, lemon rind, cinnamon, and sugar. Turn the heat to medium and bring to a simmer. Remove it from the heat and set it aside to cool for about 10 minutes. Remove the lemon peel and the cinnamon stick and add the milk-gelatin mix; return it to the stove. Stirring, bring to a boil. As soon as the cream starts boiling, remove the pan from heat, pour the mixture into the mould, and let it cool at room temperature. Once at room temperature, place in the fridge to set. Keep it in the refrigerator for at least 6 hours (better if overnight) before serving. To un-mold it, place the mould for ONLY a few seconds in very hot water. Any longer than that, and your pannacotta will simply begin to melt. If necessary, insert a knife all around between the mold and the cream to detach it from the walls. Invert onto a serving plate. Dress Pannacotta with berries or fresh fruit for additional color and flavor.

Notes: First of all, this recipe originally came from here. Second, I didn't use lemon peel and a cinnamon stick in the pudding. I used just a dash of lemon juice and very small sprinkly of ground cinnamon. It meant that you could actually see the cinnamon in my pannacotta, but it worked to give it that light cinnamon flavor, and I didn't mind that it was visible.

Hot Artichoke and Crab Dip

Allow me to present another member of the Hall of Traditions. We seem to have a lot of those... Anyway, this is a huge favorite of ours during the holiday season, most often used on Christmas Day for general snacking amongst the other horse duvers (welcome to our pronunciation of that fancy word for appetizers!) to avoid making anyone have to actually cook or do anything.

8oz cream cheese, soft
1 cup mayo
1 lg can artichoke hearts, packed in water, drained and chopped
1 small can green chilies
1 cup parmesan cheese
8 oz crab (or to suit personal taste; we like a little more)

Combine cream cheese and mayo until smooth. Stir in remaining ingredients. Place in pie plate and bake uncovered 15-20 minutes at 375 degrees until heated through and lightly browned. Serve hot with crackers for dipping; we happen to be partial to Club crackers and What Thins.

Judy's Chocolate Cream Pie

This is the chocolate cream pie that Steve grew up on, and he absolutely LOVES chocolate cream pie. He'll take that over a birthday cake any day. I don't have a picture for it yet, but hopefully I will after this evening...

3/4 cup sugar
6 Tbsp cornstarch
3 Tbsp cocoa powder
3 cups milk
3 egg yolks
1 tsp almond extract

Mix together dry ingredients in a medium sauce pan and whisk in milk and egg yolks. Cook over medium heat stirring frequently until it thickens. Remove from heat and add almond extract. Pour into cooked and cooled pie shell.

3 egg whites
1/4 tsp cream of tartar
1/2 tsp vanilla
6 Tbsp sugar

Beat the whites until they are frothy and then add the other ingredients. Continue beating until stiff snowy peaks form. Top pie with merengue and then, if desired, lightly toast the peaks of the merengue under a broiler (or a kitchen blow-torch, if you're that fancy :) for just a few seconds. Refrigerate pie until ready to use, but keep in mind that merengue will begin 'weeping' within about 24 hours.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Cinnamon Pull-Aparts

This one is DEFINITELY part of the Hall of Traditions!! It is a concrete part of Christmas, to say the least, and we do it periodically at other points during the year as well. This is something that comes from Steve's family, and is much-anticipated thing for our kids now. I will be posting this in two parts: the original recipe from Steve's mom and our modifications.

Judy's recipe:
1 bag of Rhode's frozen rolls
1-2 cubes butter, melted
2 cups sugar mixed with cinnamon to taste
While still frozen, coat rolls in melted butter and then in cinnamon-sugar mixture. Place in a buttered bunt pan or angel food cake pan that doesn't have the removable bottom. Layer the rolls up inside the pan until it's about half full. Allow to sit until doubled in size; usually overnight, because of the rolls being frozen. Bake at 350 degrees for about 20 minutes. After letting sit for several minutes, turn contents of pan out onto a large plate (hold plate on top of pan and flip quickly and carefully); serve immediately while still hot!
My recipe: (uses a feather roll recipe out of one of Mom's cookbooks, the name of which I have forgotten)
9-10 cups flour
2-3 Tbsp yeast
3 cups warm water
2/3 cup oil
1/2 cup honey or sugar
1/2 cup powedered milk (optional)
4 large eggs
4 tsp salt
Dipping and Rolling:
1-2 cubes butter, melted
1 1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar
cinnamon to taste
Mix 5 cups of the flour with the dry milk and the yeast. Mix in the water, oil, and honey; let sit for 10 minutes. Mix in the eggs and the salt. Add the flour one cup at a time until the dough cleans the sides of the bowl and then knead for 5-6 minutes.
This is a highly versatile dough and can be used for everything from pizza crusts, to dinner rolls, to cinnamon rolls; you name it. For the purposes of this recipe, we will be shaping 1" balls out of the dough. Mix the brown and white sugars with the cinnamon. Dip the balls of dough in the butter and then roll in the cinnamon-sugar mixture before placing in the pan, as stated above. Layer the rolls up inside the pan until it's about half full. Allow to sit until doubled in size. Bake at 350 degrees for about 25-30 minutes. After letting sit for several minutes, turn contents of pan out onto a large plate (hold plate on top of pan and flip quickly and carefully); serve immediately while still hot!
Note: the cooking times are different on the two recipes for a reason. Steve's family prefers a slightly doughy center on their pull-aparts, while I prefer my rolls cooked all the way through. Obviously, you can do the Rhode's rolls with a longer cooking time to get an easy pull-apart with fully cooked rolls; I just separated them that way because that's the way the two different households make them :)