So I have a bit of a confession to make… i’m already 25. Woo glad that’s off my chest. But! I wasn’t quite there yet when I perfected this dish. However, since we are confessing things I must admit that I was not able to finish all of my list before I turned 25. I know, I know how horrid of me. But before you throw your tomatoes and rotten lettuce, here me out. I would have finished the list before my big day, but I decided to high tail it to Alaska for the summer a full month before I blew out my birthday candles. I worked at a fish factory for the summer up in a tiny finish town in Alaska and trust me there was very little time and resources to finish the list. Paintball in Naknek? Doubtful, I didn’t even get phone service. I’m sure someone would have agreed to shoot at me with real guns, but somehow I feel like that would be less fun. More about Alaska later, but for right now let’s talk about my signature dish!!
I’ve actually used two different recipes for this blog, mostly because I was already making one fro my sisters graduation and also because i’m a fat kid at heart and who wants to make a signature dish without a little desert? So let’s start out with the main course: Italian Sausage Stuffed Shells.
Now let me start off by saying that I didn’t take a lot of pictures of this while I was making it because to be honest photography is not one of my skills, and food photography is even less so. Also, I forgot. So you will have to make due with my, dare I say, excellent descriptions of what I did. I’ll make it easy, don’t worry.
This isn’t the easiest dish to make, but only because it requires a few more steps than most pasta dishes. Really it’s pretty simple. I like to tweak the recipes that I find online or on the back of a pasta shells box, you know just for a random example, so that I truly can make them mine. The raw bones of this dish did in fact come off the back of the pasta box, but I added a little bit of me to it to make it all the better. Note: please do not actually add yourself to the dish in any way (blood), shape (sweat), or form (tears).
What you will need: Feel free to fiddle with the measurements if you want more or less of something
1.) 16 oz of ground Italian Sausage. I honestly just use the tube of Bob Evans brand and it tastes mighty fine.2.) 1 15oz can of tomato sauce (more if you like more sauce)
3.) 1 28oz can of crushed tomatoes
4.) 12oz box of jumbo pasta shells
5.) 1 cup cottage cheese
6.) 1 15oz package of ricotta cheese
7.) 1/2 cup parmigiana cheese
8.) 1 1/2 cups mozzarella cheese
9.) Garlic. lots of garlic. I use garlic that I mince fresh. At least several cloves, more if I don’t have a date later.
11.) Basil – fresh or ground
12.) 1 med/small white onion (no more than 1 cup chopped)
13.) 1 Red Bell Pepper
14.) 1 egg
15.) Saltine crackers or bread crumbs
16.) Olive Oil
17.) Wine – White or red works fine
What you do:
1.) Get a glass and pour a glass of wine. Any amount you want. I don’t judge.
2.) Great, now we can start! Chop up your onion into small pieces, half of that will go to the sauce the other half for the filling.
3.) Mince up several cloves of garlic, the more the merrier!
4.) Chop up the red pepper.
5.) Combine the tomato sauce, the crushed tomatoes, half the chopped onion, the bell pepper, as much garlic as your little heart desires, a healthy dose of oregano and basil to taste. You are seasoning a lot of sauce here so be generous.
6.) Bring the sauce to a boil and then bring down to a simmer. Make sure you stir the sauce occasionally and taste accordingly.
7.) In a large skillet cook the sausage until it is no longer pink. Drain and set aside.
7.) Fill a large pot with water and a dash of salt, bring to a boil and add the pasta shells. Make sure you cook them only to al dente (still firm when you bite into it). You are going to cook them more when you bake the dish, plus jiggly pasta is way harder to handle.
8.) While that’s cooking, take another big bowl and add your sausage, cottage cheese, ricotta, parmigiana cheese, most of the mozzarella, MORE GARLIC, the rest of the onion, the egg, a few crushed up saltine crackers or a few shakes of breading (this and the egg will make the filling stick together better) and a few shakes each of basil and oregano.
9.) Mix everything together really well. Don’t be shy, use your hands! Get in there nice and deep like.
10.) Once the pasta shells are al dente, drain them and rinse them off with cold water.
11.) Preheat your oven to 350 degrees.
12.) In a casserole dish ladle in a few spoonfuls of sauce, enough to cover the bottom. Then carefully, so as not to rip the pasta shells, pack each shell with the mixture. You can top off the shells if you have extra filling left.
13.) Add a thick layer of sauce to the top of the shells.
14.) Put in the oven and bake for 25-30 minutes.
15.) When it’s almost done, pull it out and add the rest of the mozzarella to the top. Pop it back in the oven and let the cheese melt!
16.) You are all done! Serve this with some nice bread with olive oil and seasonings, or nothing at all! It is a pretty filling dish so you probably won’t need a lot more. Except wine, of course. If you even have any left, ya wino. (Alright I won’t lie, mine is mostly gone too).
So here’s the finished product! I hope you love it as much as I do! This is pretty much my go to meal when I want to impress or just make a meal that is serious Italian comfort food.
This is also a great dish to make and save for a nice you don’t feel like cooking. I usually put half in an aluminum dish and freeze it, so I can just defrost it and throw it in the oven for a rainy day.
So! Now that you’ve made an amazing meal to impress the parents, the boyfriend, the girlfriend, the parents of said significant other, yourself, your cat, whomever. Although, my cat is usually entirely unimpressed with what I try to impress her with. My singing especially. Now that you’ve got this amazing meal to eat, now let’s work on the piece de resistance!
Signature dessert: Death By Chocolate
This is a great dessert to make, but be warned this recipe is for a big batch. Like a giant punch bowl big, not fit for a romantic night in. Unless you want to spend it in the emergency room getting chocolate mousse pumped out of your stomach. Aaaaaand there you have the name.
What you will need:
1.) 1 box of chocolate pudding mix
2.) Milk (for the pudding mix)
3.) 1 box of regular brownie mix with or without chocolate chips (or you can get fancy and bake your own from scratch, but I’m actually quite partial to boxed brownies).
4.) 1-2 eggs (for the brownie mix)
5.) canola or vegetable oil (for the brownie mix)
6.) 1 small carton of heavy whipping cream
7.) Powdered sugar
8.) 1 package of mini Heath bars
9.) 1 plain dark chocolate bar (I actually used a dark chocolate Easter bunny the last time I made this, and I may or may not have eaten the ears off first).
What you do:
1.) Follow the directions on the back of the brownie box to make the brownies. I NEVER cook the brownies for as long as it says on the box. I think it dries them out. I usually start with 15 minutes, check it, and then check it at 5 minute intervals after that. I take it out when I stick a toothpick in the middle and there is only a tiny bit of brownie mix still stuck on it. They will cook a bit more when you take it out of the oven.
2.) While they are in the oven follow the directions on the back of the pudding box to make the pudding. Then put in the fridge and let set.
3.) Slowly add the powdered sugar into the heavy whipping cream and beat it together until peaks form. If you try and do this without an electric beater, it’s going to take a loooong time. It’s possible… just not at all fun.
4.) Mix together half of the whipped cream in with the pudding and put back in the fridge.
5.) Unwrap the Heath Bars and crush them into very fine bits. I use a small food processor to make it super fine.
6.) Either use a cheese grater or the food processor, depending on how fine you want the chocolate. I normally just grate it for the difference in texture.
7.) Now it’s time to layer it up! Take a large bowl, I like to use a clear bowl so that you can see all the layers, on the bottom put a layer of crumbled brownies, then on top of that add a layer of the chocolate mousse pudding, then a layer of the whipped cream, then a layer of the crushed Health bar, then add another layer of the brownies, then mousse pudding, then whipped cream, then health bar. Continue layering until you are done with all your ingredients. Then on the very top sprinkle the grated chocolate.
8.) Keep in the fridge until you want to eat it… so right away obviously.
So there you have it! An amazing desert to make for family functions, work picnics, parties etc. It looks fancy and time consuming and have I mentioned it tastes amazing?
What did I learn:
So I’m 25 now, yeah? I feel like at that age its high time everyone should know how to make a decent meal. Microwave meals are great for an every now and then, i’m super hungover and don’t want to leave the house kind of meal. But lets be honest, are they really an acceptable every night grown-up meal? Come on, you know the answer. From checking this list item off, I learned that it was time to start owning 25. I don’t have to go to bed at 9 and stay in every night of the week on the couch, but I should try and adult as much as I can. Making healthy (and sometimes not so healthy) food, spending less time watching TV, spending less money when I go out, not going on shopping sprees …these are probably things you should start doing when attempting to be an adult. Yeah, i’m not going to lie I slip from time to time, but honestly I think i’m pretty good at adulting so far. It might not look like it to some, but my version of adulting is probably just way more exciting than there’s is!
Until next time, never forget:
Adventure is out there, so never stop exploring.