Friday Recipe Exchange: Revisiting Fun with Ricotta

Yummy Cannoli by JeffreyW

Yummy Cannoli by JeffreyW

Things are not slowing down here. I put a bid in on a cute little Victorian house, only to face 15 other bids this past week. I did not realize house hunting was going to turn into a full-time job that feels like an episode of the Bachelor, where I go home without the rose each week. Between that and raising a rambunctious 10-month old Great Dane, the weeks are slipping by. Speaking of the Beast, I had to clean out the freezer to make room for his frozen apples halves (apples were on sale, so I stocked up) and his giant beef bones (again, on sale, so I stocked up and boiled a good two week supply). Deep in the freezer, behind the pumpkin, cranberries and leftovers, was a pint of ricotta.

Decided I needed to use it up, so I dug into the archives looking for my vegetarian meatball recipe. That became tonight’s featured recipe, and I pulled up the previous recipe exchange where it was featured and said, “hey, that looks good.” In other words, tonight is a repeat. Next week, though, I’m planning on sharing some fun recipes I’ve been playing with this week.

To start tonight, how about homemade ricotta? JeffreyW has made it and if you click here and he’ll take you step by step through the process.

He then puts his homemade ricotta to good use with Stuffed Shells, as pretty to look at as they are delicious. (recipe and photos here)

I have a great alternative to regular gnocchi, a lighter, easier version using ricotta cheese and a fire roasted sauce to make a simple, quick Baked Gnocchi. (recipe here).

A quick Skillet Lasagna (recipe here) is great for weeknights and a breeze to make.

And a yummy dessert from JeffreyW, a beautiful Cannoli recipe, pictured above and found here.

Finally, for the pet lovers, a Bixby update from the pup himself. If you click here, be prepared, he’s a Beast, standing at his full height on his hind legs.

What’s on your menu for the weekend? Anyone else house hunting? Have you started your gardens in earnest yet?

Now on to the featured recipe. These are very simple to make and are delicious. It’s a great vegetarian alternative for your pasta dishes. They’re light and once you get the technique down, you can play with the flavors and customize them to your palate.

Veggie Meatballs

Most of the recipes I looked at used Italian Breadcrumbs. But I really feel these need fresh breadcrumbs, so I’ve included instructions for making your own. I didn’t season mine because I didn’t want them to overpower the delicate flavors of the cheeses. Fresh breadcrumbs absorb flavors and moisture more than packaged ones, so I thought it gave the whole meatball a better, lighter texture. I added a bit of  garlic powder (fresh garlic did not work with this, it was overpowering and a touch bitter), basil, oregano and fennel. The fennel really took it up a notch. My second round of these, I added a bit of red pepper flake.

Spinach and Ricotta Vegetarian Meatballs

  • 1-1/2 to 2 cups fresh breadcrumbs (instructions below)
  • 1 cup ricotta cheese
  • 1 cup grated Parmesan, asiago, romano cheese mix
  • 1-1/2 cups fresh spinach, chopped
  • 1 tbsp fresh oregano or 2 tsp dried oregano, crushed
  • 2 tsp fresh basil or 1/2 tsp dried basil, crushed
  • 1/2 tsp garlic powder (not salt)
  • 1/2 tsp fennel seeds
  • Salt and pepper
  • 4 eggs, beaten

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  • 1/4 cup fresh bread crumbs
  • 1/4 cup grated Parmesan, asiago, romano cheese
  • Olive oil

Breadcrumbs: this took a full 1-lb loaf of day-old Italian or French bread. I bought it from the day-old rack for cheap. I tore it into small pieces, spread out on a baking sheet and dried it in a 200 degree F oven for about 30 minutes. I didn’t want them toasted or seasoned because I thought it would overpower the delicate flavors of these meatballs. Once they were dried, I ran them through the blender. I reserved 1/4 cup for rolling the balls in before cooking.

Meatballs: Mix together ricotta, grated cheeses, spinach and spices. Add the eggs and mix well. Then add the breadcrumbs, 1/2 cup at a time. You want it to come together to form soft balls, but you don’t want it to be dry. Once you can form a soft ball with some structure, you don’t need to add more breadcrumbs.

Scoop up a heaping tablespoon (I used my cookie dough scoop) and roll the mixture into balls.

Mix together 1/4 cup breadcrumbs and 1/4 cup grated cheeses in a bowl and roll each meatball in the mixture, coating on all sides.

You can bake or pan fry these. I chose to pan fry, it used a bit of oil, but it gave them a nice flavor. Baking them would be my option if I was doubling the recipe.

To fry: heat olive oil in a skillet on medium and add the meatballs, leaving enough space between them to easily turn them. They are soft, so it’s a delicate process. The good news is, if you really want them round (instead of kind of flattened) you can reshape them after they come out of the pan. Turn them until they are golden brown on all sides.

To bake: place them on a well oiled baking sheet or use parchment paper. Brush them with a bit of oil if desired. Leave space around each one so they brown evenly and bake at 375 degrees F for 30-40 minutes until golden brown. You can turn them halfway through if desired.

Serve them with your favorite pasta and sauce. If you need sauce ideas, click here for Garden Fresh Sauce and click here for Awesome Sauce.

That’s it for this week. Have a great weekend – TaMara

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Bixby Diaries: Squirrels are Evil

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And robins are suspect, too. Hi! I’m almost 10 1/2 months old and life is a blast. Well, except for the squirrels. I’m up to 135 lbs and tower over my person when I stand on my back legs and hug her. We’ve been having some adventures. My person is looking for a new house and when she finds one she likes, we walk around the neighborhood and meet people. It’s always fun.

I’ve been doing pretty good at meeting people, lately, too. We went for a long walk the other day and my person let me meet everyone who wanted to pet me. I love to meet new people, but a lot of the time, my person would make me sit and hold while they walked on by. Now I don’t pull or jump at them, so I get a lot more pets. And people always say how handsome I am.

TaMara’s note: A month makes a huge difference. I’d say about 90 percent of the time he is on his best behavior with people, so I’m much more relaxed about letting them approach him and pet him. He still has moments, but I’m good at anticipating it and heading off interactions. Which is good, because everyone wants to say hi.

Bixby and Me 2

Now about those squirrels. They are evil. They sit on the trunks of the trees on my walks, right at eye level and tease and taunt me. Sometimes I just can’t help myself I have to try and get them. That gets me in trouble, because I’m not suppose to pull my person halfway across the street. But. I. Hate. Them. And robins, oh they are just so, robin-y. I don’t like them either. But I saw my very first Great Blue Heron, flying above us and it was soooo cool I had to stop and watch until it landed in a tree. Then we saw an Osprey catch a fish. Dove in the water, pulled it out. I was so excited I almost ran right into the pond myself.

TaMara’s note: Yeah, don’t know what it is about the robins. He’s great with the Canada geese on our walks, so good in fact, they cross the path right in front of him, much to his delight. And ducks and chickens are all on his list of friends. But robins…not so much. He really does like those big birds, though.

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I had a play date today with my best bud Kodiak. It is sooo much fun to run around with someone who is okay with rough housing. It’s hard being the biggest boy on the block (ok, not really, because my next door neighbor is a big black and white Mantle Dane, but he’s older and not big on rough housing). It’s good to be able to play the way I want and not get in trouble.

One last thing, a few weeks ago, one of my litter mates, Missy, left us. She was a kitty, but I still thought of her as one of mine. I miss her and still look for her under the table on her chair. My person was so sad, I tried everything to make her smile. I’d lay under her desk and put my head on her foot. Then I’d roll over, paws up until she smiled. Finally, I had to do something drastic, so I climbed up on the couch next to her desk and put my head next to her computer and turned upside-down till she laughed. That felt good. Then she told me I had to be nice to Jake because Missy was his mama and he missed her. So I’ve done my best to be friends with Jake, even though I’m kind of jealous of him. But I think it makes him feel better and I know it makes my person feel better.

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My person bought me a new food dish today and I can’t wait to try it out. I’m pretty hungry after my big day. So I’m off to eat. Hope you got some good stuff in your food dishes today, too. – Bixby

TaMara’s note: Had some issues with his plastic food toys, so I’m trying something new. Have I mentioned how much I adore this pup? He’s growing up into such a great, sweet dog. It’s hard work most days, but I think it’s worth it.

Paw print

Feeding Bixby

(There will be a flurry of posts…been busy all week and slowly I would write up stuff, but it wasn’t until today that I had photos to go with them….)

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Bixby is fed with food puzzles. I use four different toys to give him variety. The problem I’m having is two-fold, one is he’s strong enough to damage the plastic and the plastic is causing him facial issues, including breakouts and scrapes. He was starting to look like Emma was abusing him daily.

I was trying to think what I could do to fix this. I really like idea of meal time taking him a half hour to eat and that he has to work for it.  So I wandered around the farm store

This is what I came up with, so far, it’s working well.

New food dish

He rolls it around and the food falls out fast enough so he doesn’t get discouraged, but still slow enough that it’s a challenge. I thought it was a pretty clever solution. I’ll probably still use the green plate (top photo) and retire the two rolling balls. I also have a 3 QT pitcher that works well. That should be enough to keep him interested.

Paw print

Sammich Pr0n

DSC_0263 (1600x1060)I uploaded this photo the other day but the post was getting long so I left it out.  Today works for me.  Sloppy joe with American cheese all melted in and pickled peppers.  The side is more of the loaded potato salad.

Tidbits

Wow, six days since the last post!  I am so lazy!  We have been busy in the kind of laid back style that meets our definition of lazy.  We installed a new yard hydrant near the back barn to replace one that wasn’t sited just right and was getting increasingly difficult to open and close. 20150416_130454 (Copy)The old hydrant was in the back, next to the mulch, we are bringing it closer to the front of the barn.  It was wetter than ideal but we managed to get the ditch dug and the hydrant hooked up and tested out.DSC_5243 (Copy) We were tardy getting a hummingbird feeder up although it hasn’t been exactly overrun since we got it going – we saw one the other day.  The “Eskimo” Viburnum is just now hitting its peak with tons of compound white blossoms, reminiscent of Hydrangias.  DSC_0283 (1600x1060)We’ve been working the grill pretty hard.  This sammich is from country style ribs that smoked for a few hours.  They got a dry rub and a taste of a BBQ sauce, then were chopped and reheated in a skillet atop the stove to get a nice little crisp going on the edges.  The potato salad is another batch of the loaded potato salad that has become our fave picnic style side dish.DSC02232 (1600x1200)This is an older female cat, 5 yo, an owner surrender.  Mrs J says she is starting to come around from the trauma of separation.  We have no info on why the previous owner dropped her off, could be any number of legitimate reasons, and it’s good that she wasn’t just turned out on her own.  We see that a lot.
DSC_5244 (Copy)I have a start on the herb garden.  From the bottom:  Basil, chives, parsley and another to feed to the caterpillars, oregano, rosemary, and thyme. DSC_5245 (Copy)In the back are two determinate variety tomatoes, iirc they are “Mountain Fresh”, one has been broken over and may need replacement although there is still a leaf left intact with the rest of the stem.  In the foreground are various peppers:  Sweet, hot, and ornamental.  I have sweet bananas, serranos, cayenne, and a sweet Italian red pepper, “Carmen”, that looks similar to the banana peppers in the little photo.  I started some fernleaf dill but it’s looking puny today.  Katie and Jack are keeping a lookout for squirrels and those geese that have found where Mrs J leaves the corn for the deer.DSC_5246 (Copy)I do the veggies and herbs, Mrs J keeps up the flowers.  She has the biggest job.  Our 2002 ATV started acting up, right in the beginning the season, so we opted for this shiny, new 2014 model.  I told the dealer guy to show me one that is as close to the old one as he had, and he came very close.  He was tickled at the low mileage on the old one – we don’t do trail rides, just haul stuff around the place, run to the mailbox, and visit the neighbors on occasion.DSC_0271 (1600x1060)We’ve been eating sammiches or dropping by the local Chinese buffet.  We hit the buffet yesterday at the perfect time, I think, everything was freshly cooked and waiting for the lunch crowd, which we beat.DSC02241 (1600x1200)I rarely put up a photo of a large dog, Mrs J works inside with kittens and puppies, but she took this one of a stray that a local police officer brought in.  He said he would rather St Francis had it that the folks at the county humane shelter down the road.  Mrs J says they are required by law to post photos of strays, she posted the photo to the shelter’s Facebook page to be shared around, hoping the owner will see it and step up.

Sammich Pr0n

DSC_0244 (1600x1060)Sloppy joes are an old standby.  I usually brown the beef with chopped onions and add whatever comes to hand for a sauce – easiest is adding a favorite BBQ sauce but I rarely stop at that.  Ketchup, a squeeze of mustard, steak sauces, soy sauce – I’ve used all of these either singly or in combination.  A few minutes before serving, lay slices of cheese atop the mixture, cover, and let the cheese melt down.  Scoop a portion out with a broad spatula and slide it off onto a waiting bun.DSC_0259 (1600x1060)Mrs J called for grilled hamburgers now that the Weber is set up on the front patio.  I’m usually a pickle, onion, and mustard guy but I like ketchup on occasion.  This one has a slice of provolone that’s just starting to sag.  In a skillet on the stove top I let the cheese melt right on down but I’m not a huge fan of scraping burnt cheese off of a gas grill.

Brussels Sprout Salad

DSC_0238 (1600x1060)I found this recipe while looking for salad ideas and decided to give it a try.  It’s pretty good, not change your life good but it is a nice change of pace.  My mandoline doesn’t like the little fiddly jobs so I used a knife but it went pretty well, I didn’t do a whole lot of them.  I added a packet of Splenda to mine, and a splash of rice vinegar because I thought it needed just a tad more tart.DSC_0239 (1600x1060)The meat of the menu was this pork tenderloin all pounded thin and breaded.  I ate mine with a little chili sauce.  The plate was rounded off with more of that loaded potato salad.  I made a different batch with red potatoes this time but otherwise about the same.  I did drop a glob of yogurt in with the sour cream and mayo for the dressing.DSC_0240 (1600x1060)

Friday Recipe Exchange: Smokin’

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Last week I found a nice, small pork roast on sale and decided it would be perfect to make a slow-cooker pulled pork. That reminded me that it would be a good idea to revisit JeffreyW’s smoking adventures with his backyard smoker. I’ve pulled a few recipes, but if you search for “smoker” on the blog, you’ll find a whole lot more of his mouth-watering pictures and recipes.

Let’s start with my slow-cooker Easy Pulled Pork, I posted two ways to make it here.

Next up, JeffreyW makes an assortment of goodies in his smoker:

Here is his recommendation for a smoker and some tasty Ribs.

Homemade Pastrami (click here) – serious mouth-watering photos.

Smoked Chicken (photos and recipe here).

My youngest brother also jumped on the Smoker band wagon and sent me photos of a great meal that included Smoked Macaroni and Cheese (link here). He didn’t include a recipe, but I think it’s safe to say, make your favorite Mac ‘n Cheese, place in an aluminum pan, cover and smoke it for about 45 minutes to an hour at 165-180 degrees.

Smoker people seem very passionate, so if you’ve got the bug, hit the comments and share your experiences and expertise. What delicious things do you have planned this weekend? Anyone getting the grill out yet?

Tonight’s featured recipe from JeffreyW:

Smoked Brisket

I thawed a beef brisket and was thinking corned beef but changed my mind.  I have a fresh made pastrami on hand so I decided on a straight smoked brisket.  The procedure is much the same as with making a pastrami except you are starting with a fresh beef beef brisket rather than a corned one.  I suppose you could use the same dry rub for both but I wasn’t sure how the juniper berries in the pastrami rub would taste so I went with a more traditional rub.  I was tossing various ingredients in and didn’t keep track of the amounts of each so I can’t do more than list them from memory:  Black pepper, kosher salt, onion powder, granulated garlic, smoked paprika, ancho powder, regular chili powder, fresh ground cumin, some powder out of a bottle of Goya “Adobe Seasoning” (it’s yellow – go figure), creole/Cajun seasoning, oregano, and probably a few more.

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I placed it on the top rack of my electric smoker, threaded the temp probe through the vent and into the thickest part, placed a drippings pan with an inch of apple cider under the meat, added the soaked hickory to the smoke chamber, closed the door and fired it up.  It’s been cold and snowy so I knew it would take a good while to get to the “done” temperature but I wasn’t thinking 23 hours.  That’s how long it spent in there before I pulled it.  The probe was registering 176 degrees.

I pulled the first drippings pan out because I think it was keeping the inside temperature in the smoker too low and replaced it with a dry pan after about 12 hours.  The quart of cider plus the drippings was reduced to what you see above.  If I could make it by the gallon I’m pretty sure I would be a millionaire in short order.  Awesome stuff.

That’s it for this week. No Bixby update, but he turns 10 months old this weekend, so I’ll put something together soon. Have a great weekend. – TaMara

row-of-hearts

Sammich Pr0n – BBQ Pork

DSC_0237 (1600x1060)Another homemade bun with some roast pork and Sweet Baby Ray.  I made the eggs with a dab of the tzatziki, mayo, and a whiff of sour cream.  There are chives in there as well as the dill from the tzatziki.DSC02186 (1600x1060)Bonus Kitteh!  Toby fled under the couch during a thunderstorm, here he is checking to see if it was safe to emerge.

Slow-Cooker Pulled Pork Two Ways

Slowcooker pulled pork

This recipe is so simple and so very good. It’s great to make and then have ingredients for sandwiches all weekend. Eat cold or reheat, both are good.

Slow-Cooker Pulled Pork

  • 2-3 lb boneless pork roast
  • salt and pepper
  • cayenne or red chili pepper flakes (opt)
  • red wine vinegar
  • favorite barbecue sauce (JeffreyW and I are both fond of Sweet Baby Rays – I like the spicy)
  • favorite rolls (I like multi-grain hoagie rolls)

Slow-cooker

Remove the string ties from the pork roast. Spread the roast out, season all sections with salt, pepper and if you like, cayenne or chili pepper flakes. Roll back up and place in the slow-cooker (don’t tie it up again). Add red wine vinegar (about 2 tbsp or more as desired). Cover and cook according to slow-cooker directions – usually 8-10 hours on low. Keep that lid closed.

Once its cooked, remove the roast and pour off all but about 2 tbsp of the liquid and fat. Shred the roast and return it to the slow-cooker, add barbecue sauce, start with 1/4 cup and add more as desired. I eventually used about 1/2 cup and a little bit more each time I reheated.

Don’t want barbecued pork, how about Carnitas? Just change out the spices:

  • salt and pepper
  • 2 teaspoons dried oregano
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 onion, coarsely chopped
  • 4 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 1 jalapeno, chopped
  • 1 orange, cut in half

Mix together spices and oil and rub over the roast liberally. Add the roast, garlic and jalapeno to the slow-cooker. Squeeze the orange over the meat before adding it as well. Cover and cook as above. No need to drain, just shred the pork and serve on tortillas.

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