Bison Stuffed Italian Shells

I was craving meat recently (it doesn’t happen often) and so this recipe happened. This is a Kelly Taylor original, so be ready for approximate measurements.

To begin, heat olive oil, over medium-high heat, in a heavy bottomed pan (such as a dutch oven). Add:

1 1/2 pounds of ground bison

Season with salt and pepper. Sauté until it it has absorbed all of the fat and has browned. Then add:

1/2 a small yellow onion, finely chopped
1 large or 2 small cloves of garlic, minced

Allow to cook for a few minutes, then add:

2 large tablespoons of tomato paste
3/4 cup of white wine

Turn the heat down to medium-low and allow the meat to simmer.

In the meantime, either heat up or cook your favorite marinara sauce. Also, bring a large pot of water to boil and cook a package of jumbo shells for 4 minutes. Do not cook the shells all of the way, otherwise they will overcook in the oven.

Add a couple ladles of marinara sauce to the bison meat. This helps to add more flavor and make it extra moist. Also add:

2 large handfuls of chopped parsley

Stir it all together. It should look like this:

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Next pour some marinara sauce onto the bottom of a large 13×9 baking dish (just enough to cover the bottom). Then carefully spoon meat into each shell and line the shells up into the prepared baking dish.

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Once each shell is full, top the shells with marinara sauce and sprinkle with Parmesan or Pecorino Romano cheese.

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Bake in a 375 degree oven for 30 minutes, covered, and an additional 5-10 minutes uncovered.

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When done, sprinkle the top with fresh parsley and enjoy!

My basic marinara sauce: 

1 large yellow onion, finely chopped
red pepper flakes
2-3 cloves of garlic, minced
1 6 oz can of tomato paste
1/2 cup of white wine
2 28 oz cans of whole tomatoes, pureed, or frozen tomatoes, also pureed
salt and pepper

Sauté the red pepper flakes and onions until soft, about 8-10 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. Add the garlic and let cook for one minute. Add the tomato paste and wine and let cook for a few minutes. Add the tomatoes and season again with salt and pepper. Let simmer for at least an hour. Do ahead and refrigerate or freeze.

During the summer months, I also add fresh herbs, such as basil. Dried herbs are fine, as well.

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Myths about Healthy Eating

Anyone who knows me well will know that I’m not a “I’ll just have a salad” girl*. I eat, and I eat a lot. But I’m also very active, which is the primary thing that fuels my hunger, and most (but not all) of what I eat is fairly healthy. And because I so often hear myths of what it means to be a healthy eater, I feel compelled to write this post and straighten a few things out.

  1. Myth #1: People eat healthy food to be skinny. I can’t speak for all women, but healthy eating, to me, has nothing to do with dieting or waist size. I eat healthy so that I wake up most mornings feeling good, so that I can run a 5k or do a long bike ride, and so that if I ever do get sick, I hopefully have a good starting chance of fighting the disease. And, even more importantly, I eat healthy so that when it comes time to go into motherhood and other stages of life, I’m able to physically and mentally take on anything that comes my way.
  2. Myth #2: Healthy food is bland and boring. If you think so, you’ve obviously never had a good vegetarian curry. The typical midwestern diet, which seems to be primarily composed of meat, grease, and cheese, is what’s bland and boring.
  3. Myth #3: People who like healthy food never eat unhealthy stuff. I love butter. I love making and eating super cheesy pizza. And cake with buttercream frosting. And fatty chicken wings. Oh do I love fatty chicken wings. Do I feel guilty or less healthy eating these things? Nope. Since I eat healthy most of the time, I don’t feel guilty about eating an unhealthy meal.
  4. Myth #4: If you eat healthy food, you don’t need the flu vaccination, and you’ll never get sick. Living a healthy lifestyle can help keep your immune system strong and help prevent heart disease, diabetes, etc., but healthy eating isn’t a replacement for a vaccination.
  5. Myth #5: Detox and drinking a majority of your meals is good for your body. Detox is not healthy. In fact, some of those detox drinks are just plain scary. Don’t get me wrong: I love smoothies, mostly just because I love fruit, and smoothies are an excellent way to get extra vegetables and nutrients into your body. BUT! juicing to lose weight is not healthy. Protein drinks or juices shouldn’t replace meals.
  6. Myth #6: Packaged health food is good for you. Don’t believe health claims. Stick with whole foods and homemade food.
  7. Myth #7: Eating healthy is like being on a never ending diet. Truth: if you just eat healthy, you’ll never have to diet again.
  8. Myth #8: Being healthy means being gluten-free, paleo, a vegan or a vegetarian. Some people are sensitive to gluten, some people are not. Some people rather not eat animals. What works for one person may not work for another. You can live a healthy lifestyle without cutting out certain foods. Figure out what works best for you body and your ethical beliefs and stick with it.
  9. Myth #9: Fat-free and sugar-free are healthy choices. On the contrary, these are almost always the unhealthiest choices. Plus, if something is fat-free, you’re probably going to use a lot more of it since it has less flavor. And more studies are starting to come out that show the dangers of artificial sweeteners.
  10. Myth #10: If you eat healthy, you’ll always feel hungry. If so, you’re not eating the right things. Though I often say that I’m always hungry, it’s because I’m active, burn off calories quickly, and have a high metabolism. After I eat, I feel quite full. But if your lunch consists only of celery sticks and peanut butter than yes, you’re going to be hungry.

So dear world: Stop dieting. Stop worrying about your waist size. Instead: Exercise! Be active. Cherish food.

*I love salads, though. I mean I really love salads. I often make big, mixing bowl-size salads and eat it all right out of the mixing bowl (in fact, I may be doing that right now), and I also love salads at restaurants, so I’m not against ordering salads. There’s a difference between eating a salad because you don’t want to gain weight and ordering a salad because it looks and sounds amazing. Besides, many restaurant salads are actually quite unhealthy once you factor in the dressing and toppings.

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Butternut Squash Manicotti- An Experiment

It has been so long since my last post! That’s what happens when you work in the retail industry during the holidays. I feel like I’m just now getting back to my usual routine, which means you can expect to see recipes on a regular basis again!

My first post is not a usual recipe. It’s more of a journal entry of my latest experiment. About a year or so ago, I had the idea to stuff manicotti with butternut squash, yet I never got around to it. This entry below is my first try. I didn’t go by a specific recipe and just sort of made it up as I went, so excuse the lack of proper measurements.

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I began by roasting one medium butternut squash and one rather small one (a large squash would have been ideal, but this is what I had on hand). In order to roast, I cut off the stem and then, using a sharp chef’s knife, I cut the squash in half, lengthwise. Then I placed it on a cookie sheet, seed side up. I spread a touch of olive oil on each half, sprinkled with salt and pepper, and baked at 400 degrees. The time is, of course, based on how big the squash is, but I have found that you need at least an hour for a small squash, and an hour and a half for a large one.

Once done, I let them cool in the refrigerator. (I recommend roasting the squash in the morning or even the day before, if you have the time).

Next I purreed the squash in my food processor and then added it to a small sauce pan. Once it came to a boil, I added:

between a 1/4-1/2 cup of mascarpone cheese
about 2 tablespoons of Pecorino Romano cheese
1 clove of garlic, minced or grated
a handful of fresh parsley
salt and pepper

I stirred it all together until the cheese had melted and then removed it from the heat.

In the meantime, I boiled my manicotti shells for just 4 minutes. You absolutely do not want to cook the shells all the way, otherwise they will be overcooked and mushy when you bake the dish in the oven. You want to take the manicotti shells out when they are still very al dente.

Then it’s simply a matter of filling the shells, which is both fun and messy. I have tried various methods for manicotti over the years. Sometimes I cut off the corner of a plastic storage bag and use it like a pastry bag. Other times I just use a small spoon. Either method is equally successful and messy. The above method was enough to stuff 8, rather sloppy, shells.

Now, for this recipe, I melted a heaping spoonful of mascarpone cheese in a saucepan, added about a 1/4 cup of the pasta water and pepper, and then poured that mixture on top of the filled shells. I think any sauce would work, though.

Then I topped it with some more Pecorino Romano cheese and stuck it in the oven, covered for 20 minutes, and 8 minutes uncovered.

Next time, I may try ricotta cheese instead of mascarpone (the mascarpone was richer than I had in mind), and may add in egg to help bind the mixture more. But for now, here’s how the final product looked.

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Banana-Oat Energy Bars

Sometimes before a run or during a long bike ride, I need an energy boost. Store bought energy bars often have ingredients I don’t like to eat, so for the past few years I’ve tried to find various energy bar recipes to make at home. This recipe is based off of one found in the Runner’s Word Cookbook, and it is delicious and gives me enough energy to make it through a run or bike ride. It’s a strange cross between banana bread and a granola bar. The only downside, though, is that it is so moist that I’m afraid it’ll crumble when I store it in the back of my cycling jersey (I haven’t had a chance to try it yet).

The original recipe can be found in the Runner’s World Cookbook, which I highly recommend to any runners. Below is my modified recipe:

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Ingredients:

2 very ripe bananas (defrosted if using frozen)
Slightly less than 1/2 cup of safflower or canola oil* 
1/2 cup of pure maple syrup
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups old fashioned oats
1/2 cup whole wheat flour
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
4 Medjool dates, pits removed and roughly chopped
1/2 cup of dried cranberries**
1/2 cup of chopped walnuts**

Directions:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease or spray a 8×8 baking pan (or a round cake pan works too).

Mash the bananas. Stir in the oil, syrup, and vanilla.

In a separate bowl, mix the oats, flour, baking powder, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg, and baking soda.

Pour the dry ingredients into the bowl of wet ingredients and mix. Next fold in the chopped dates (make sure the pits have been removed!), the cranberries and walnuts.

Bake for 25-30 minutes.

Now you’re ready for the 30+ mile bike ride. Enjoy!

*why slightly less? The original recipe used sugar instead of maple syrup, so I cut back on the oil.

**if you “accidentally” add more than 1/2 a cup, that’s okay. Accidents happen.

 

 

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Cast Iron Skillet Apple Pie (or maybe it’s apple crisp)

Ok, fine, so maybe this isn’t a true apple pie. Since I didn’t use a dough or a crust, I guess it’s more like an apple crisp. I’m calling it pie, though.

The cast iron skillet I used has been in my family for years. It belonged to my great grandmother, and I just recently re-treated it. And let me just say this here and now: I’m madly in love with it, and you can expect to see many more recipes using it.

But anyway, as for my not-quite-a-pie, maybe-an-apple-crisp recipe. The filling is from my 1984 edition of Joy of Cooking. I love using old cookbooks for baking recipes because they typically use less sugar than modern day recipes you’ll find online (which is odd of me to say considering that I’m posting this one online). This recipe only uses 1/2 cup of sugar in the filling, which allowed for the true taste of the apple to shine through, rather than the overbearing taste of sugar.

The topping is a modified version of a topping that I got from who knows where. It uses a lot less sugar and butter than the original.

So begin by preheating the oven to 400 degrees. Place the cast iron skillet in the oven to preheat.

Next core and slice:

5 apples

Place them in a large bowl and add:

1/2 cup of brown sugar
1/8 teaspoon salt
1 to 1 1/2 tablespoons of cornstarch
(depending on how juicy your apples are)
1/4 teaspoon of cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon of nutmeg

In another bowl, mix together:

1 1/2 cups of oats
1/4-1/2 cup of brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon of cinnamon

Once mixed, add:

1 stick, plus 1 tablespoon of butter, cubed while still cold

I like to work the butter into the other ingredients with my fingers, but you can use a food processor as well.

Next pull the cast iron skillet out of the oven and add 1 tablespoon of butter to the skillet. It will make a wonderful sizzling sound. Let it melt (it’ll only take a few seconds) and then quickly add the apple mixture (more wonderful sizzling noises) and then pour the topping on. Place the skillet back in the oven and back at 400 degrees for 10 minutes, then reduce the heat to 350 and bake for another 35-45 minutes. 

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Simple Vegetarian Chili

I love chili. It’s the perfect cozy-day meal that you can cook all day and watch the leaves or snow fall outside. I grew up eating beef chili, but since I don’t eat beef anymore, I’ve fallen in love with vegetarian chili. (My mom finds this hilarious since I refused to eat chili with beans as a kid.)

Sometimes I get quite fancy with my chili, but this recipe is my favorite. It’s very simple and is all about those delicious kidney beans that I refused to eat as a child. The key to this chili is cooking the dry beans in with the beer rather than just throwing a can of already cooked beans in at the end. You could do that, I suppose, but if you follow this method, the beans will take on the most wonderful flavor.

And yes, you read that right. I use beer. Me, the person who hates drinking beer. I grew up eating chili made with beer, though, and just because I’m not using meat in this recipe doesn’t mean that I’m going to cut out such a key ingredient.

And so to begin:

Start by heating olive oil in a heavy bottom pot or dutch oven. Sauté:

1 medium onion, finely chopped

Saute for about five minutes. Then add:

1-3 jalapenos, seeded and finely chopped*
salt

Cook for another five minutes. Then add:

at least 3 tablespoons of chili powder
about 2 teaspoons of cumin
3 cloves of fresh garlic, minced
1 teaspoon of coriander
a few grinds of black pepper

Let the spices cook for a minute or two. Then add:

1 1/2 to 2 cups of dried red kidney beans, soaked overnight**
28 ounces of crushed or pureed tomatoes

One 12 fl oz bottle of dark beer (emphasis on dark)
1 cup of water (you may need to add more as it cooks if the chili gets too thick)

Give everything a stir and bring the mixture to a boil. Have a lid on the top of the pot, tilted so that it’s still letting steam out. The chili will start to splatter when it boils. Once it’s boiling, turn the heat down to medium low and let it simmer for hours. Taste every few hours in order to adjust seasoning. (This is the best part of making chili!) My family is notorious for adding chili powder by the spoonfuls all day long, so really, in the end, I have no idea how much chili powder I use. Also, if using canned tomatoes, you might want to add:

1 tablespoon of brown sugar (optional)

I like my chili to be really spicy with a slight hint of sweetness in the background.

If you want to add zucchini or corn in at the end, you can. I highly recommend serving the chili with cast iron skillet cornbread (recipe coming soon), Greek yogurt, and gouda cheese on top. Enjoy!

And sorry about the lighting in the below picture. It was sort of an afterthought.

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*If you’re using jalapenos from your freezer, as I do during the winter, be careful! Something about the freezing method seems to make jalapenos hotter (or at least the ones in my freezer seem to get hotter). Mine are so unpredictable that I start with a quarter of a jalapeno and add more throughout the day. I learned this lesson the hard way. One time I put a whole jalapeno in and it was so spicy that I could barely eat it (and I love spicy!). So be cautious in the beginning and keep tasting throughout the day. Also, experiment with other hot peppers. Though I usually just use jalapenos in this basic recipe, there are many others that are quite wonderful in chili.

** I say 1 1/2 to 2 cups because it depends on how beany you want your chili to be. (And yes, beany is a word.)

 

 

 

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Vanilla Pear Jam, Apple, and Roquefort Cheese Pizza

I swear, I do eat “normal” American-style pizza. You know, the cheesy kind topped with black olives, hot peppers and pineapple (ok, ok, so maybe my taste isn’t completely normal). But more often than not, I like unusual pizzas, or at least unusual in comparison to the greasy, cheese and pepperoni topped pizza that has conquered most chain pizza joints across the United States. I’m drawn to the ones topped with ricotta cheese or roasted vegetables or fig jam, prosciutto, and gorgonzola (amazing combination, by the way). So when I bought one of my favorite seasonal jams from the market (Vanilla Pear from Sweet Thing Gourmet Jams), and the owner recommended pairing it with gorgonzola cheese, I knew it was time, once again, to make pizza.

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I made a similar pizza late last winter using apples, caramelized onions, and gorgonzola (which is a delicious combination), but this jam, combined with the spiciness of the pepper flakes, gives this pizza an extra punch. I used roquefort cheese instead of gorgonzola, just for something different, but the taste is so similar that you could easily use either one. And of course, I don’t expect everyone to have access to such a unique jam, but I’m sure many other jams would work as well.

So to begin (and I apologize for the lighting in some of these photos. Dark kitchen.). You will notice in the below photos I’m using a pizza pan. It was my first time using one. Usually I use a pizza stone, but I found that the pizza pan works quite nicely as well.

Shape your pizza dough. Spread a thin layer of the vanilla pear jam onto the dough (a little goes a long way). Sprinkle with red pepper flakes, fresh garlic (about one small clove), and oregano or other Italian herbs. 

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Next add slices of apple and slices of banana peppers or another pepper of your choice.

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Between the peppers and apples, drop small chunks of roquefort or gorgonzola cheese. It spreads when it melts, so you don’t need much.

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Sprinkle the top of the pizza with a combination of asiago cheese and pecorino (or one or the other). Add a tiny pinch of salt and a few grinds of fresh black pepper.

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Bake at 475 for about 8-10 minutes, or until crust is golden brown.

Remove from oven and drizzle balsamic vinegar on top. (I used a specialty vinegar I received as a gift: Vanilla Fig. Plain vinegar will do, as well. Just make sure it’s a thick, high quality vinegar).

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It’s sweet. It’s spicy. It’s creamy and crunchy. It’s delicious. Enjoy!

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