Taking a break for the holidays, see you next year!

Pecan Crescents

These are another holiday favorite in our house.  Pecan Crescents, which are very similar to Mexican Wedding Cookies, are a buttery, pecan cookie covered in powdered sugar.
These use a lot of butter and don't make a lot, which makes for some tasty cookies!

Pecan Crescents:
click here for printable version

2 sticks butter, softened
6 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup chopped pecans
2 cups flour
powdered sugar

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees.
Cream the butter and sugar.
Add the remaining ingredients.

Shape dough into crescents, put on ungreased baking sheet. 
Bake for 15-18 minutes.  Remove from oven and let them cool on the sheet for a couple of minutes.

After the cookies have sat for about 5 minutes, roll them in powdered sugar.


Crescent Scramble

Save the egg whites and Pam for the weekdays…Weekend eggs need to be just a little naughty.   Good eggs require butter.  Mix in whatever other ingredients you like, but don’t skip the butter! 

Crescent Scramble:
By:  Jean Johnson (inspired by First Watch’s “Breakfast Scramble”)
click here for printable version

(serves 2-3)
 1 package Pillsbury crescent rolls
2 TBSP butter, divided
¼ cup diced ham
¼ cup diced mushrooms
5 whole eggs
2 TBSP half and half (or heavy cream, milk, etc.)
Salt and pepper, to taste
¼ cup shredded cheese (I use whatever is on hand, usually a “Mexican” blend.)

Bake the crescent rolls according to the package directions.

While the rolls bake, prepare the ingredients, but don’t start cooking anything else yet!
 Whisk together the eggs, half and half, salt, and pepper.

Melt 1 TBSP of butter in a non-stick skillet over medium-high heat. 
Saute the ham and mushrooms until lightly browned.  (If using other ingredients, substitute any veggies and meats being included here.)

 Set the mixture aside.

Remove the pan from the heat, allowing it to cool to a medium heat.  Return to the stove with the burner set to just below medium.  Melt the 2nd tablespoon  of butter in the pan.
Add the eggs.  Immediately begin swirling back and forth with a spatula.  Keep the eggs moving, scraping and swirling the entire egg surface in a ritualistic kind of way.  If you find yourself entranced by the magic of cooking eggs, you are doing this correctly.

When the eggs look set, add the ham and mushrooms into the mix.  (Everyone’s idea of “set” is different.  Many people would say I like my eggs overcooked.  Eat yours however YOU like…)

Add in the cheese.
Plate the dish by using 2 or 3 crescent rolls and adding the eggs in the middle.  Top with some dried thyme or other favorite herb for some color.

Chicken Marsala

Yum, that is all I have to say about this recipe.  I have tried Chicken Marsala at a few Italian restaurants and nothing beats this, my mother-in law's, recipe.  The sauce has the perfect balance of garlic, lemon and Marsala wine.  Pair it with homemade Fettuccine Alfredo for a rich, delicious Sunday dinner!

Chicken Marsala:
adapted from Mary Hubbell
click here for printable version

1 1/2 # boneless, skinless chicken breasts, pounded thin
1 cup flour
3/4 cup Marsala wine
8 ounces fresh mushrooms, sliced
1 ounce fresh garlic, mashed with 1 teaspoon salt in a mortar and pestle
1 lemon, juiced
1 tablespoon fresh parsley, minced
2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, plus more for browning chicken
black pepper
garlic powder 
cayenne pepper

Preheat the oven to 200 degrees.
Lightly season the chicken breasts with salt, pepper, garlic powder and cayenne.  Lightly flour chicken.  Coat the bottom of a pan (preferably cast iron) with olive oil, heat over medium heat.  

Cook breasts until browned on both sides.

When the chicken is browned evenly put in oven to cook through and to keep warm.
Deglaze the pan with the Marsala wine.

In a separate skillet, heat the butter and 2 tablespoons of olive oil over medium heat.  Saute the garlic for 2 minutes, then add the mushrooms and parsley.  Cook until the mushrooms are soft.  Add the lemon juice, set aside.

Pour the wine and drippings into mushroom sauce.  Add the chicken and stir to coat.
Serve over noodles.

Fettuccine Alfredo

We finally found an alfredo sauce that has just the right balance of creaminess and garlic.  We served it with Chicken Marsala, which will be posted tomorrow.  And apologies again for the not-so-great picture.  Everything I take after the sun goes down looks like this, but we don't eat dinner at 4:30!

Fettucine Alfredo:
(for 1 # of pasta)
click here for printable version

3 tablespoons butter
1 cup heavy cream
3 cloves of garlic mashed with 1/2 teaspoon salt (in mortar and pestle)
pinch of nutmeg
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1 tablespoon fresh parsley, minced
1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese

Boil water for pasta.
Put the butter, cream and garlic mixture in a large skillet and cook over medium high heat until it reduces by half, stirring frequently.  
Add the nutmeg, salt, pepper and parsely.  Remove from heat and set aside.
Cook pasta.  Toss the sauce with the pasta and cheese.

Homemade Pasta

We discovered homemade pasta a couple of years ago, and were surprised by how easy it was to make and how much better it tasted!  Sure, on the weekdays I use box pasta, but whenever we have a little extra time we make our own.  This is a step-by-step tutorial on how to make your own pasta.  We learned the technique from The Classic Pasta Cookbook.  We bought a cheap pasta roller and cutter, but did also make it entirely by hand a few times.  Although hand-rolled pasta is the most "authentic", it is much more difficult for the novice to get consistently thin sheets of pasta. The machine-rolled pasta you make at home still beats the store-bough pasta by a mile!

A few additional tips from Thomas (our chief pasta maker):

- Many Italian cookbooks call for "00" (doppio zero) flour in their fresh pasta recipes. Marcella Hazan recommends basic All Purpose as an alternative in the US. We used King Arthur AP for this recipe and achieved great results. If you're going for more authenticity, King Arthur does make an Italian-style flour that is intended to be like Italian "00".
- The amount of flour you actually need depends on the humidity in your kitchen and the size of your eggs. I recommend starting with a little less than 2 cups and slowly adding in more until you get the right consistency and level of moisture in your pasta dough.
- It is very helpful to the overall texture and "workability' of your pasta dough if you let your eggs come close to room temperature before making pasta. So, I recommend that you take them out of the fridge and hour or two before you start to make your pasta.
- The narrowest cutters on your pasta machine produce a pasta known as tonnarelli. This is an excellent substitute for plain old boxed spaghetti. Tonnarelli and Meatballs is one of our favorite dishes!

Homemade Pasta:
click here for printable version

3 eggs (take them out about an hour before you start)
2 to 2 1/4 cups flour

Pour the flour into a hill on the counter and make a well in the center.  Break the eggs into the center of the well.  Beat the eggs with a fork.

With the fork, gently add some flour into the well.  Do not break the wall or the eggs will seep out.

Quickly, use both hands and bring together the remaining flour and egg mixture.  Mix until all of the flour is incorporated.

The dough should feel moist but not sticky, add more flour if necessary.
When it feels right, wrap it in plastic wrap.

Clean your work surface.  
Unwrap the dough and begin kneading.  Hold the dough with one hand while folding it over the fingers of the other hand.

Use the heel of your palm to push the dough down and away from you.  Continue until the dough is smooth (usually about 5-8 minutes of kneading).  Wrap it in plastic wrap and let it rest for at least 20 minutes.

Cut the dough into 6 pieces and wrap them individually in plastic wrap.

Set the pasta rollers at their greatest width. Feed the dough into the pasta machine.
Fold the dough in thirds, turn it so the folds are at the sides and run it through the machine again.  Do this three or four times until it is very smooth.
Reduce the width of the rollers by one. Feed the sheet through the rollers again. Repeat this procedure until you have reached the desired thickness (for pasta that will be cut, we usually stop one short of the thinnest setting).

Lay the sheets on towels to dry, about 10 minutes.

Use your machine's pasta cutters or a knife to cut the pasta as desired, remembering that it will expand when cooked.

Let dry for about 5-10 minutes.

Boil about 3 minutes (for fettuccine) depending on the type of pasta you have made.  Homemade pasta cooks much faster than the box type.

Toss with your favorite sauce.  Check out our recipe for Fettuccine Alfredo tomorrow!

Jean's Lasagna

When I met Molly’s brother, Greg, we knew instantly that we had a lot in common.  Food was, and still is, one of those commonalities.  Naturally, when I met Molly and Thomas, we were all able to bond over food—and still do!  I am happy to share my recipes with you through their blog.

I enjoy cooking, and like to make gourmet-style meals.  As a working mom, though, fast and simple usually wins.  While I don’t always make my own pie crust or marinara sauce, I do make sure my ingredients are fresh and healthy.  Weekends sometimes are a different story, like the lasagna I am sharing with you today.

Jean Johnson
click here for printable version

 2 tsp olive oil
1 pound turkey sausage
12 oz. part-skim ricotta
3 oz. mascarpone cheese
1 package frozen spinach, defrosted and drained of liquid
1 TBSP minced garlic
1 egg, beaten
2 TBSP Italian seasoning, divided
Salt and pepper, to taste
½ tsp nutmeg (freshly ground, if you can)
1 box no-cook lasagna noodles
2 jars marinara sauce (I like to use Newman’s Own)
1 pound mozzarella cheese, shredded
¼ cup parmesan cheese

 Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.
Spray a glass baking dish with cooking spray.
Heat the olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat.
Remove the sausage from its casing.  Brown the sausage, breaking into small pieces.  Set aside to cool.

 Combine the ricotta and mascarpone cheeses, spinach, garlic, egg, 1 tablespoon of Italian Seasoning, salt, pepper, and nutmeg.  Set aside.

 Place a generous layer of marinara sauce in the bottom of the pan.

 Lay noodles down to cover the pan.

  Add ½ of the cheese mixture.

  Layer of ½ of the sausage on top of the cheese.  Top with 1/3 of the mozzarella.

 Cover with sauce.

Repeat the noodles, cheese mixture, sausage, and mozzarella.
Top with a third layer of noodles, then sauce, then the remaining mozzarella. 
Sprinkle the parmesan cheese and remaining Italian seasoning on the top of the lasagna.

Cover the lasagna with foil.  Place on a foil-lined baking sheet.
Bake at 375 for 60 minutes. 
Remove the foil and continue baking for 10-15 minutes, until browned and bubbly.
Remove from the oven and let sit for 15 minutes.

 (Why not make a salad and some garlic bread while you wait?)