Green Stuffed Shells

Green Stuffed Shells

I’ll be honest. Every time I make these, I adjust the recipe a little bit. So this isn’t really a recipe. It’s an invitation to join the experimentation.

I’ll also admit that these were a happy accident and I’m no kitchen genius.

Oh, and they don’t have anywhere as much cheese as they seem like they should. Don’t tell anyone how healthy they are, and no one will know.

Ingredients

1 box jumbo shells
4 cups of pasta sauce

2 cups fresh spinach, ribboned
1 medium onion, diced

2 cans cannellini beans
1 cup quinoa, cooked
Medium bunch fresh parsley, leaves only
2/3 medium head of garlic, peeled

1+ cup grated mozzarella
1/2 cup grated sharp cheddar
1/2 cup gorgonzola
1/4 cup grated pecorino romano or parmesan
1-2 teaspoon Italian season
1 teaspoon garlic powder
4 tablespoon olive oil
1 teaspoon balsamic vinegar
Salt & pepper to taste

1. Start shells cooking. Water boiling, the whole bit. You’re going to have to handle these later, so cook them while you’re doing everything else, and let them drain and cool.

2. Sauté onions and 1/2 teaspoon of the Italian seasonings and some salt. Once the onions get glassy and start to brown, turn off the burner, toss in the spinach, and cover to let it wilt.

3. In a food processor, combine beans, quinoa, parsley leaves, garlic cloves, oil, vinegar, and the rest of the seasonings. Process until mostly smooth. My food processor is large, but I do it in a few batches to make sure it’s mixed and a good consistency. (I like to have quinoa cooked ahead of time so it’s cooled. About 1 cup quinoa to 1 and 3/4 cups bullion, like you would cook rice. I’ve been only using about 2/3 of the cooked quinoa last few times I’ve made this.)

4. Preheat oven to 350. Hopefully by now your shells are cooked to the point of being leathery but not soft. Drain them and set aside. Don’t cook them all the way in the water or they get gross.

5. In a heat-safe bowl, combine the onions and spinach you sautéed, and all of the lovely other things you pureed. Then add most of the cheese (save about 2/3 cup to spread on top at the end) , and rest of seasonings. Mix well. The cheese usually gets a little melty by now.

6. Pour about 1 cup sauce in the bottom of a 9″x13″ deep dish. Stuff one giant tablespoon of filling into each shell and line them up in the dish. Pour balance of pasta sauce to coat the shells. Sprinkle the last of the cheese over the top.

7. Bake at 350 for 25 to 30 minutes, or until cheese has melted and sauce bubbles. Remove from oven and cool for ten minutes.

Green Stuffed Shells nakedI can add a lot more in here, but I’m going to assume you know your way around a kitchen and can figure out simple tasks like how to sauté onions in a little olive oil and salt until they’re glassy. I also assume you know how to adjust cooking time for your oven and the type of dish you are cooking in. I use a heavy stoneware tray, where a glass or metal tray would bake faster and possibly dry out your pasta quicker. Also I don’t cover my pasta with foil, which just leaves little splashes when the sauce is bubbling at the end. That’s your call.

My only complaint so far about this whole set up is that the only big shells for stuffing available seem to be Mueller’s or Barilla. So the pasta lacks the flavor of the Barilla Plus that we normally get. But the sauce and garlic and everything else make up for it.

As soon as my basil plants are up for the challenge, I fully intend to work some fresh basil into this recipe. There’s no substitute for fresh herbs and real ingredients. (Like using good quality pasta sauce in a jar will never quite be the same as the slow-cooked red gravy that The Man makes.)

My absolute favorite thing about this pasta dish though, is that when I make it, I suddenly have a bunch of unexpected guests dropping by. And when I send it to work with The Man for lunch, I get love notes from his co-workers. Everyone loves good pasta.

[Girl21]

Green Stuffed Shells parts

Hogtown Craft Beer Festival 2012

It’s bad luck to call your event “1st Annual” but I hope that’s what this was. We look forward to the 2nd Annual Hogtown Craft Beer Festival at Kanapaha. Very much.

We’ve been attendees and fans of the Greater Gator Beer Fest for some time, but when faced with a choice, decided to try the new one at Kanapaha rather than the GGBF a few weeks earlier at Magnolia Park. Sorry, we did have to choose for financial reasons, and we’re glad we chose this one.

Not that it was perfect. Next year they’ve got to figure out the food situation. Guests were invited to buy a ‘Food Pairing’ ticket for an additional $15 (or purchase food separately), but at the end of the day the vendors were just giving their food away to anyone. The food area was also somewhat separated from the beer tasting field, so it was awkward. And the absolute worst offence was the choice of food vendors. There was a surprising list of out-of-town vendors, and an alarming vacuum of vegetarian options. So even though we brought cash to buy food, I ended up diving into the emergency crackers in my purse.

Other than that, and a few first-time kinks, the event was a lot of fun. Not only was it NOT in a parking lot, but it wasn’t saturated with Budweiser and Busch displays run by skinny girls in tube tops. There were plenty of craft breweries representing their art. There was shade to stand in, grass and chairs to sit on, and even live music off to the side. Some of the small breweries even had their actual staff (and brew masters) pouring the beer and talking about it like it was something they knew about.

It was nice to see some absolute favorites there, and we bee-lined for Victory Brewing’s table first thing, and then two steps over to Southern Tier. We stopped at Cigar City, SweetWater, and Swamp Head because we are fans. And we lingered at Mile Marker (wish they had the Coconut Porter), Stone Brewing (Levitation Ale was tasty), and Magic Hat (Elder Betty was interesting). That’s not to say it was all fun and games.

Cheers to Orlando Brewing Partners for their offering of organic brew, but there weren’t a lot of developed flavors to be found. With so many things to try, I can promise that the grass was watered with some unwanted beer from a few people drinking for quality rather than quantity.

Many of the breweries at the Festival are available at bars and pubs around town, so it wasn’t all new to the beer-lovers in our group. But there were smaller breweries that are up and comers. Mile Marker is a brewery in St. Augustine we never heard about and fully intend to visit on our next road trip. Not only were their brews intriguing and the team behind the table friendly, come on… it’s like an hour’s drive away. How could you not? Each of their offerings at the Festival were tasty.

Another note about the event was that instead of being jam-packed with college youths trying to get drunk, there were tons of locals and beer-lovers out an about. The Man and I generally run into a lot of people we know, but this was wall-to-wall locals. The event staff allowed designated drivers to pay the garden entry fee and get a DD bracelet so they could hang out with (and watch over) their friends. Plus it was Kanapaha for the love of god. How could you not have a good day?

Highly recommend you keep your ears to the ground for next year’s event and buy your tickets immediately.

Hogtown Craft Beer Festival
April 14th, 2012 | $35 General admission ticket
HogtownBeerFest.com
(let’s hope the prices don’t go up for next time!)

[Girl21]

It’s Strawberry Season Again?

I have food guilt. Not the guilt from having eaten too much food. The guilt of knowing that food is going bad in my fridge RIGHT NOW! I really hate throwing fruits and veggies in the compost because I waited too long to use them. But sometimes I can’t keep up with my own kitchen.

Someone had left two baskets of strawberries in my fridge and I woke up one morning knowing they were on their last little legs. I could almost hear them calling to me, “End it! End our suffering!”

Okay, that’s a little morbid. I did feel the need to use them before they went off, and of course I had a loaf of beer bread eyeing me from the top of the fridge. The pressure was on. I diced up the strawberries and a few other things, tossed them into a sauce pot while we sipped our coffee on the back porch, and in ten minutes we were happily munching on breakfast.

I don’t know what this would be called. I like to think of it as a sweet chutney because of my Indian food background, but I guess it would be closer to a warm fruit spread. I welcome proper classification from a foodie know-it-all.

Ingredients:
1 cup diced strawberries
1/4 cup finely chopped crystallized ginger
1 teaspoon sugar
1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh mint
1/4 cup (or less) white wine or dry vermouth

I diced up the strawberries into big chunks, and because they were not completely fresh, they were a little on the dry side. So when I put them into the sauce pan with the sugar, I poured a little dry vermouth in also, just to moisten the sugar and berries. (I always have a bottle of Martini & Rossi extra dry vermouth for cooking instead of wine because the vermouth has added aromatics that give a lovely depth to dishes.) I suppose if you’re boring, you could just add a little water.

The candied ginger can be tricky to dice up because it’s so sticky. I love having a big bag of Reeds crystallized ginger on hand. It’s great for digestion after a particularly heavy meal. And it’s fun to add a little pop of flavor to cookies, oatmeal, and now fruit. If you can find the grain on each piece of ginger, it makes your life easier here. Chop this up to a reasonably small size and mix that into the strawberries.

Then chop up the mint leaves into fine ribbons and add that as well. Mint is wonderful to grow because it hardly needs any maintenance as long as it gets enough water and light. My one plant is actively taking over the front porch. I suspect it makes nasty threats to the other plants when I’m not around.

Anyhow, on a medium low heat, stirring occasionally, this should be done in less than ten minutes. The strawberries will get very soft, but they should remain pinkish in the center, and the liquid will look like soupy jelly. Spread on some thick-cut toast and enjoy.

As for me, I can hear some potatoes and an onion in the fridge asking for Dr. Kevorkian, so I suppose I’ll need to make some soup today.

[Girl21]

Snakebite

Snakebite, Loosey's Pub

Brass monkey! That funky monkey!

If you remember when that song came out, you’re my kind of people. (Beastie Boys, License to Ill, 1986.) I only bring that up because I was looking up the history of one of my favorite drinks, and this fun little fact was flung at me like an unwelcomed booger.

A Brass Monkey is a shandy, which is a drink that mixes beer with some kind of soda or juice, depending on where you are and where your bartender is from. A Brass Monkey is a mix of orange juice and beer. And the version the Beastie Boys were familiar with was where a hard-partying rock and roll youth would drink off the first 1/4 of a 40 of malt liquor or beer, and top off the can or bottle with OJ.

No, that’s not my favorite drink at all. I feel like I just threw up thinking about that. I like a Snakebite, which is a specific type of shandy. It’s a combination of half beer and half cider. Many bartenders will just mix the two willy nilly and hand it over like a dead rat in a glass. But the classy folks will pour the cider first, then float the beer on top. I generally see this done well with a nice dry cider like Strongbow paired with a dark beer like Guinness for the maximum effect and flavor.

At Loosey’s (pictured), you get Donnybrook instead of Guinness, which goes much nicer with the cider because it lacks that slightly burnt after flavor. But I may have to try the version a friend was drooling over which was raspberry cider with Choklat Stout by Southern Tier. Probably best for dessert.

But watch out. Lore states that Snakebites get you drunk faster than the individual drinks that make them. I haven’t seen any supporting evidence, but there’s a long argument at several sites about this. I can only guess the reason for the myth is that originally a Snakebite had a shot of vodka in it in some regions. Which of course would sneak up on you and bite you in the ass.

[Girl21]