Cheesy Baked Penne

We love a good comfort food recipe and are particularly fond of this cheesy baked penne. We recently had a friend who was ill, and to lend a helping hand, we prepared this recipe to send to his house. In the days of social distancing, dinner on the doorstep is an easy gesture for someone that could use some TLC. We love this dish because it has a little bit of everything including sausage and loads of cheese. You can make it and bake it all in one batch as the recipe describes below, or you can refrigerate it before baking and either deliver it to a friend or save it for yourself for later. It appeals to even the pickiest of eaters, so it’s great if you are looking for a kid friendly meal to add to your recipe rotation!

Cheesy Baked Penne

  • Servings: 6
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Our version of comfort food! We love making this penne on cold nights or to leave for a friend to bake later.

Ingredients

  • 1 lb penne pasta
  • 1 lb Italian sausage, removed from the casing (spice level is up to you)
  • 2 tbs olive oil
  • 1/2 yellow onion, diced
  • 4 cloves garlic
  • 1/2 cup tomato paste
  • 15 oz can whole, peeled tomatoes
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1 tbs dried basil
  • 1 tbs dried oregano
  • 15 oz ricotta cheese
  • 8 oz shredded mozzarella cheese
  • 1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • fresh basil for garnish, optional

Directions

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Bring a large stock pot full of salted water to a boil. When the water is rapidly boiling, add the pasta and cook according to package directions for al dente. Strain the pasta and place the pasta back in the pot you cooked it in.
  3. Heat a large Dutch oven pot over medium-high heat. Add the sausage and cook to brown, about 5 minutes. Use your spatula to break the sausage up into bite sized pieces. When the sausage has browned (it doesn’t have to be cooked through), remove it from the pan into a bowl for later use. You want to leave about 2 tbs of fat from the sausage in the pot, if there is any. If there isn’t add the 2 tbs olive oil and let it get warm.
  4. Add the onion to the pot; sauté for 4 minutes, or until the onions start to become translucent. Add the garlic and sauté another 2 minutes.
  5. Add the tomato paste to the pan and sauté for another 3-4 minutes- this helps caramelize and bring out the sweetness of the tomato paste.
  6. Add the next 4 ingredients (whole tomatoes – dried oregano) to the pot. Give everything a good stir and bring the sauce to a simmer. Simmer for 10 minutes to let the flavors develop. Use an immersion blender to blend the sauce into an even consistency. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
  7. Add the sausage back to the sauce. Remove 1 cup of the sauce and 1 cup of the ricotta and toss it with the pasta. It’s okay if the pasta is at room temperature at this point, as it is all going in the oven.
  8. Spray a 9 x 13 inch baking dish with cooking spray. Layer the pasta in the baking dish. Use a spoon to put dollops of the remaining ricotta cheese throughout the pasta. Top the pasta with the tomato sauce, shaking the pan or using a spatula to dig the sauce into all the crevices of the pasta. Top the sauce with the mozzarella and parmesan cheese. Spray a piece of foil with cooking spray and cover the baking dish.**
  9. Bake the penne for 20 minutes covered and another 10 minutes uncovered. Top with fresh basil, if desired. Let the pasta rest for 5-10 minutes before serving.
  10. ** At this point, you can refrigerate the penne and bake at a later time. If you are cooking the penne from a refrigerated temperature, bake at 375 degrees for 45 minutes; 30 minutes covered and 10-15 minutes uncovered so that the cheese is melted and bubbly. Rest for at least 5 minutes before serving.



Braised Short Rib Stew With Cheesy Grits

We love braised short ribs in the winter; they are rich and hearty and the ultimate cold weather treat. They are not on our weekly menu very often because they take a long time to cook to get the meat fall off the bone tender. This really is a recipe for a cold weekend day when everyone is hanging around the house and you have the time to give this recipe some love. Each time we make short ribs we experiment with a variety of ingredients, but our favorite base recipe is a red wine braised short rib with lots of herbs like rosemary and thyme. We have braised the short ribs for four hours so that they are fall off the bone tender. We then like to shred them into bite sized pieces and add them back into the sauce that they were braised in. The result is a savory beef stew that is pretty much to die for. To make the final dish really over the top, we have served the stew over cheesy cheddar grits.

Braised Short Rib Stew

  • Servings: 4
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Winter comfort food at it’s finest. We love this stew on a cold day served over cheesy cheddar grits for a ‘stick to your ribs’ kind of dinner.

Ingredients

  • 3 tbs olive oil
  • 5 lbs bone in short ribs, patted dry and seasoned well on all sides with salt and pepper
  • 1 yellow onion, diced
  • 4 whole carrots, peeled and cut into bite sized pieces
  • 4 stalks celery, diced
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 stem fresh rosemary (approx 4 inches)
  • 4 sprigs fresh thyme
  • 2 tbs tomato paste
  • 14. 5 oz diced tomatoes
  • 2 cups red wine
  • 2-3 cups chicken stock
  • 2 tsp salt
  • 2 tsp pepper
  • 3 tbs butter
  • 3 tbs flour
  • salt and pepper to taste

Directions

  1. Heat a large Dutch oven pot over medium-high heat. Add 2 tbs of the olive oil and let it get nice and hot before adding the short ribs to the pot. Sear the short ribs for about 3 minutes per side on all sides, so that the short ribs are nice and brown. Remove the short ribs from the pot and set aside.
  2. Add the remaining 1 tbs of olive oil and the onions, celery, and carrots to the pot. Caramelize for about 4 minutes before adding the garlic. Saute another 2-3 minutes, or until everything is starting to soften and is fragrant.
  3. Add the rosemary, thyme, and tomato paste to the pot. Cook everything for another 3-4 minutes- this helps concentrate the flavor of the tomato paste and give it a nice savory sweetness. Add the diced tomatoes, red wine, and 2 cups of chicken stock to the pot. Season with the salt and pepper and give everything a good stir. Add the short ribs back into the pot, thick side down, and make sure that they are mostly submerged in the liquid. If there isn’t enough liquid to cover them, add additional stock until they are covered. Bring the liquid to a slow simmer, cover the pot, and cook the short ribs for 4 hours. You will be tempted to uncover the lid and peek at the short ribs but keep them covered!
  4. After the 4 hours has passed, remove the short ribs from the pot along with the rosemary and thyme sprigs. Tent the short ribs with foil to keep them warm. In a medium sauce pan, melt the butter and flour to form a roux – an equal mixture of butter and flour that will form a paste. Cook until the roux is a medium brown color. Add a big ladle of the short rib liquid to the roux and continuously stir to thicken the liquid and make sure that the roux is completely blended. Add the mixture to the rest of the short rib liquid and stir well to combine. Bring the liquid to a boil so that the flour cooks through. While the liquid is coming to a boil, shred the meat of the short ribs off their bones. Add the short rib meat back to the pot, stir to combine, and season with any additional salt and pepper if necessary. Serve hot over mashed potatoes or grits.


Cheesy Stone Ground Grits

Does anyone else love the grits from Waffle House as much as we do? How could you not! Based on the amount of road trips we have taken in our lifetime, we know that there is just something so satisfying about grits at a pit stop on an early morning drive. When the weather is cold and we are stuck indoors, cheesy, creamy grits are the ultimate side dish to just about any entrée – breakfast, lunch or dinner. Our version of grits takes about 30 minutes to make, but we think that they are well worth the effort. Over the next few weeks we will be highlighting some of our favorite dishes that pair perfectly with this classic side dish.

Cheesy Stone Ground Grits

  • Servings: 4
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Our ultimate, guilty-pleasure side dish that pairs well with just about everything!

Ingredients

  • 2 cups chicken stock (you can substitute water if you want this vegetarian)
  • 2 tbs butter
  • 1 cup stone ground grits
  • 2 cups 2% milk, warmed in the microwave
  • 1 cup sharp cheddar cheese, grated and separated
  • salt and pepper to taste

Directions

  1. Bring the chicken stock and butter to a boil in a medium sauce pot. Add the grits, stir well, and reduce to a low heat so that the grits are on a slow simmer. Cover the grits and cook for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally so that the grits do not stick to the bottom of the pan.
  2. After 15 minutes, add the milk and 3/4 cup of the cheddar cheese to the grits. Stir well and again, keep covered on a low simmer for another 15 minutes. Stir occasionally so that the grits do not stick to the bottom of the pan and they cook evenly.
  3. When the grits have finished cooking, give them a really good stir so that all of the liquid is absorbed. Season the grits to taste with salt and pepper and serve hot with the remaining 1/4 cup cheddar cheese over top.


Lamb & Guinness Shepherd’s Pie

For as long as January felt, we blinked and here we are in the middle of March. While March is exciting for those young enough for Spring Break, for us young adults, mid-March means St. Patrick’s Day. There are two easy ways to approach a St. Patrick’s Day menu- green themed or traditional. This year we have gone the traditional route by starting our menu with Lamb & Guinness Shepherd’s Pie. Can you get any better than topping savory stew with creamy mashed potatoes? We don’t think so. 

Adding Guinness to this recipe adds to the Irish theme and also brings a hearty, almost bitter taste to the stew. This balances out the richness of the lamb and mashed potatoes. We’ve used a standard frozen vegetable mix in this version of the recipe, but if you decide to make this in the summer months, feel free to substitute for fresh veggies of your choosing.

Lamb & Guinness Shepherd’s Pie
Makes: 4 servings
Prep Time: 40 minutes   Cooking Time: 20 minutes   Total Time: 1 hour

Ingredients For the Potatoes:

  • 3 large russet potatoes
  • 2 tbs butter
  • ½ cup milk
  • salt and pepper to taste

Ingredients for the Filling: 

  • 1 tbs olive oil
  • 1 yellow onion, small dice
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 tbs fresh rosemary, minced
  • 1 tbs fresh thyme, minced
  • 1 lb ground lamb 
  • 2 tbs tomato paste 
  • 1 tbs Worcestershire sauce 
  • 2 tbs flour 
  • 1 Guinness beer (16 oz) 
  • 3 cups frozen vegetable medley, thawed in the microwave
  • salt and pepper, to taste

Directions: 

  1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.
  2. Peel the potatoes and cut them into medium, even sized pieces. Put them in a large pot and cover with cool water by an inch or so. Bring the water to a boil and cook for 10-15 minutes, or until the potatoes are fork tender. . Drain the potatoes and return them to the pot.
  3. Mash the potatoes with a potato masher and add the butter and milk. Continue to mash until they are creamy and to the texture of your liking. Season with salt and pepper and set aside.
  4. Start the filling by heating a large saute pan over medium heat. Add the oil, onion, carrots, garlic, rosemary and thyme.. Saute for 3 minutes, or until the onions star to caramelize.
  5. Season the lamb well with salt and pepper. Add the lamb to the pot and brown for roughly 4-5 minutes.
  6. Add the tomato paste, Worcestershire, and flour to the pan and stir well to evenly distribute. Cook another 3 minutes. Add the Guinness and stir with a whisk to combine. Bring to a boil and then turn down the heat to a low simmer. Cook the lamb mixture for 15 minutes, uncovered. Add the vegetable medley to the mix and gently stir to combine. Taste and season with salt and pepper.
  7. Spray each of the four ramekins (or a deep 9 x 9 x 2 baking dish) with cooking spray. Evenly distribute the filling among for four ramekins or into an even layer in a baking dish. Top with mashed potatoes, being sure to completely spread the potatoes to the edges to create a seal over the filling. Bake the shepherd’s pies for 20 minutes, or until the potatoes are golden brown. If they haven’t browned in the 20 minutes, turn your oven onto a high broil and cook for another 3-5 minutes. Let the shepherd’s pie rest for at least 10 minutes out of the oven before serving. 

Best Ever Mashed Potatoes

Nana has a few rules when it comes to Thanksgiving and one is that mashed potatoes should never be healthy. While we do love a good cauliflower mash and finding ways to make our favorite foods healthier, Thanksgiving is not the time that we mess with a classic. The recipe below calls for butter, milk and cream cheese. The cream cheese adds a little something extra to the texture and taste of the potatoes. Bottom line, this dish rocks. Run an extra mile or do whatever else you need to do to indulge in these guilt free. 

The Best Ever Mashed Potatoes                                                                                                                 
Serving Size: 8 side servings                                                                                              
Prep Time: 5 minutes    Cook Time: 30 minutes   Total Time: 35 minutes 

Ingredients:

  • 6 potatoes 
  • 6 tbs butter 
  • 2 cup whole milk
  • 8 oz cream cheese
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 6 chives, chopped (for garnish, optional) 

Directions:  

  1. Place a pot of water on the stove with approximately 8 cups of cold water. Peel the potatoes and discard the skin; chop the potatoes in one inch pieces (this does not have to be precise). 
  2. Add the potatoes to the pot of cold water. Heat to boiling. Cook on a constant boil for 15- 20 minutes, or until you can easily stick a fork into the potatoes.
  3. Drain the potatoes and place back in the warm pot.
  4. Add the butter and 1 cup of milk and mash the potatoes until you have a smooth consistency.
  5. Add the cream cheese and remaining cup of milk if you would like a smoother texture to your potatoes. We recommend adding 1/2 cup of milk at a time until the potatoes are your desired texture.
  6. Season the potatoes with salt and pepper and serve with chopped chives and a few dabs of melted butter for garnish.