Friday, July 29, 2011

Mouth-Watering (make ahead) Manicotti

If you lived in my house you would know I love food from all over, but my favorite has to be Italian! Cheese is my soft spot (both on my tongue and around my body...haha) so this is a dish you might need to run to the gym after devouring, but it's well worth it!

This dish is also an homage to one of my dearest friends, Jill Melendez. I remember how in college I always had to have some meat in my meals, but she could live off of Manicotti! I hope this dish is pleasing to her! I also wanted to come up with a dish that I could make the night or morning before so I can hang out with guests while it cooks! It's simple, flavorful and will knock your socks off! Enjoy!



For the Manicotti:
  • 1 box manicotti
  • 32 ozs marinara sauce (bought or made w/my recipe of Simply Fresh Marinara)
  • 1 (10 ounce) package frozen chopped spinach, thawed & drained
    • Try to get every ounce of water out so it doesn't make the cheese soggy
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh basil 
  • 1 tsp garlic powder
  • 2 eggs (at room temperature)
  • 1 pint (2 cups) ricotta cheese
  • 2 cups shredded mozzarella cheese (divided)
  • 1 cup grated Parmesan cheese (divided)
  • 1 tbsp Italian Seasoning
  • 1 1/2 tbsp white sugar
  • 1/8 tsp salt
  • 1/4 tsp ground black pepper

For the Sausage (if using):
  • 10 Italian sausage links (I like to use hot, but sweet works if you're not a fan of spice)
  • 24 ozs marinara sauce (bought or made w/my recipe of Simply Fresh Marinara)


1. Place manicotti shells into sink (with stopper in place) and pour a kettle's worth of boiling water on top, followed by hot water from your faucet to cover the shells, plus 1 inch more over the top.

TIP: If you let the shells sit in this for 
FIVE MINUTES, then remove (see step #8), 
they will cook 1/2 way and finish cooking in the oven. 
This will also allow for easier stuffing! 

2. Use a rod to move around and make sure they are not sticking to each other.

3. Meanwhile, in a medium bowl, mix together ricotta cheese and eggs until blended. 

4. Stir in the fresh basil, Italian seasoning, garlic powder, sugar, salt & pepper. 

5. Stir in 1 & 1/4 cups of mozzarella cheese, along with 1/2 cup of parmesan. 

6. Squeeze all of the water from the spinach, 
chop up with a knife to make sure it is in small pieces, 
then stir into the cheese & spice mixture.

7. Pour the cheese mixture into a gallon size zip-lock bag and set aside.

8. Using the rod (so you don't burn your fingers), remove the shells from the sink and place on wax paper or foil on a flat surface. Allow the shells to dry (roughly 5 minutes.)

9. Spay a casserole dish with nonstick spray and spread about 2 cups of marinara sauce in the bottom.

10. Cut the tip off of the baggie (just a smidge smaller than the manicotti shells hole)
& stuff mixture into uncooked pasta shells. 

TIP: I start stuffing on one end, then when it gets a little harder, 
flip & stuff the rest from the other side. 
This will make it go faster and you won't have breakage in your pasta shells!  

11. As you finish stuffing each shell, place on top of the marinara sauce in a single layer.

12. Pour the remainder of sauce over the top and spread evenly.

13. Sprinkle the remainder of the cheese over the top & let chill in the refrigerator for 8 hours or overnight.

Do you have left over manicotti filling?
Here is an option of what to do with it to make an appetizer, or savory breakfast!

Just spread on some crusty bread, some small crackers, or even toast if you're all out of the others like me and bake under the broiler until the cheese bubbles!
Just like that you've put every bit of it to use :)

Now back to cooking...

 When ready to cook the manicotti (and sausage if using):

14. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

15. Cover with foil and bake for 40 minutes.

16. In the meantime, heat up a pot 
(cast iron is my preference, but use what you got!) 
to medium-high heat.

17. Add 3 tbsp of EVOO, followed by the sausage links.

18. Brown the sides of the sausage (about 2 minutes per side.)
They should look like the sausage links (in the picture above) on the left side when browned.

19. Pour the remaining marinara sauce over the top, stir to coat the links and 
turn down the temperature to low so they can simmer while the manicotti bakes.

20. Right before the 40 minutes are up, remove the sausage links and place on a plate or board to cool.

21. Remove the foil from the manicotti and allow it to cook for roughly 5 more minutes.
You want the cheese to finish melting & brown ever so slightly on top!

22. Remove the manicotti from the oven and allow to sit for about 10 minutes before serving.

23. Slice sausage into bite sizes pieces and place into serving dish.

24. Pour the sauce from the pot they cooked in over the top of the cut sausage and stir. 
Cover until ready to serve.

You can serve the manicotti on the plate, topped with sausage
serve the sausage on the side
just let guests plate how they see fit!

Bon Appetit!

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

5 Minute Chocolate Cake!

I know you had to check this out because of the title alone, and you won't be disappointed! This truly is a cake that only takes 5 minutes to make AND cook!!! Well, that being said, it is only true if you have all of your ingredients out and the recipe at hand. So while the husband is cleaning up after dinner (because you cooked right?!?!?!), you and the kids are mixing and cooking dessert just in time for everyone to be ready to enjoy! It really is simple, delicious, and will WOW your friends and family!

yields 1 cup of cake 
(you can make one per person or split between 2 people because you're not going to want to share!)
  • 1 coffee mug (they can all be the same or different)
  • 4 tbsp cake flour (do not use self-rising)
  • 4 tbsp cocoa
  • 4 tbsp sugar
  • 1 pinch instant coffee (optional, but makes it taste better!)
  • 1 egg (if you beat it in a separate container, it mixes better when you add it)
  • 3 tbsp oil
  • 3 tbsp milk
  • 1/8 tsp vanilla
  • 3 tbsp chocolate chips (optional)
  • powdered sugar (enough for dusting over the top)
  • Chocolate syrup (to drizzle over the top at the end)


    1. Spray mug with non-stick cooking spray, then wipe out with paper towel.

    2. Add dry ingredients to mug and mix them together with a fork.

     3. Add the egg and mix well with fork
    (but do not over mix as it can make the dough hard.)

    4. Pour in the oil, milk, & vanilla; mix well.

    5. If using chocolate chips, mix in now.

    TIP: When adding chips (or nuts if the recipe calls for it), dust
    with some flour and toss before adding them to a batter. Then
    they won't all sink to the bottom of the baked good when it rises.

    6. Put mug in the microwave
    (yes you read correctly, the microwave!)
    and cook for 2 minutes and 30 seconds
    (if you have a temperature setting, cook on high.)

    7. As the cake is cooking, it will rise over the top of the mug, but this is normal!

    8. Remove (carefully with oven mitts) from the microwave.

    9. Using a toothpick, poke several (about 10) holes in the top of the cake.

    10. Pour chocolate syrup over the top (however moist you want it to be.)

    11. Allow the cake (and mug) to cool (about 3-5 minutes)

    12. Dust with powdered sugar & serve with a spoon, or dump the cake out and serve on a plate.

    Either way, it's a fun and delicious way to serve dessert!

    Bon Appetit!