Happy Mother’s Day & Cooking for a Junior Girl Scout Cook Badge

Happy Mother’s Day! I wish all of the mom’s out there a beautiful and relaxing day. ❤ While Mr. BrookCook and my kids take care of me and the cooking today, I have time to share a special mother-daughter cooking project.

In order to earn a Junior Girl Scout Cook Badge, my daughter (with my help) had to cook a complete breakfast, a healthy dinner, and a delicious dessert. Understandably, she wanted to make meals that she wanted to eat! This was actually a great opportunity for her as she is harder to please when menu planning. It was a lesson in itself to see how much time and work is required to put together an entire meal. 🙂

We made Blueberry Cornmeal Muffins for breakfast with fruit salad on the side. She loved cutting all of the fruit herself. For the “healthy” dinner, she prepared a No-Boil Macaroni and Cheese (recipe below) with Simple Caesar Salad. Healthy enough, right? She loved it so much we have already made it again.

We made a Lemon Meringue Pie, using a store-bought pie crust, for dessert. Not only did she make the pie, she typed out the recipe to share with her Girl Scout Troop. A big project! She did a great job and I was very proud of her. I hope that she continues to enjoy cooking more and more in the future. ❤

No-Boil Macaroni & Cheese (adapted from Bon Appetit)

Yield: 8 Servings

For the Pasta:

  • 1/4 cup (1/2 stick) unsalted butter
  • 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 3 cups whole milk
  • 1 T coarse salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper or more, to taste
  • 1 pound elbow macaroni
  • 2 cups shredded extra-sharp white cheddar, divided

For the Topping:

  • 1/4 cup (1/2 stick) unsalted butter
  • 2 garlic cloves, chopped
  • 1 cup panko (Japanese breadcrumbs)
  • 2 T chopped flat-leaf parsley
  1. Preheat oven to 400°, preferably on convection.
  2. Melt 1/4 cup butter in a large saucepan over medium-high heat.
  3. Add flour; cook, whisking constantly, for 1 minute.
  4. Whisk in milk and 3 cups water.
  5. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to a simmer, and cook, whisking often, until a very thin, glossy sauce forms, about 10 minutes.
  6. Stir in 1 tablespoon salt and 1/2 teaspoon pepper. Remove sauce from heat.
  7. Toss pasta and 1 1/2 cups cheese in a 13x9x2-inch or other shallow 3-quart baking dish. Place on a rimmed baking sheet.
  8. Pour sauce over (pasta should be submerged; do not stir) and cover with foil.
  9. Bake until pasta is almost tender, about 20 minutes.

For the Topping:

  1. Melt remaining 1/4 cup butter in a large skillet over medium heat.
  2. Add garlic, panko, and parsley and toss to combine. Season with salt and pepper. Set aside.

To Finish the Dish:

  1. Remove foil from dish. Sprinkle with remaining 1/2 cup cheese, then panko mixture.
  2. Bake until pasta is tender, edges are bubbling, and top is golden brown, about 10 minutes longer.
  3. Let sit 10 minutes before serving.

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Shortcut Baked Rigatoni with Meatballs

There are so many end-of-the-school-year parties this time of year. A great time to share a crowd-pleasing casserole! I brought this baked pasta dish to my son’s pre-County Championship Swim Meet pasta dinner. I was thrilled when my friend’s husband asked for the recipe. 🙂

This recipe was adapted from such a fun book- Mad Genius Tips: Over 90 Expert Hacks + 100 Delicious Recipes by Justin Chapple and the Editors of Food and Wine. I love Chapple’s column in the printed magazine and knew I would enjoy this book as well. The pasta and the meatballs cook in the oven. Truly genius!

  • 1/2 pound ground pork
  • 1/2 pound ground beef or ground turkey
  • 1/2 cup plain dry bread crumbs
  • 2 large eggs, lightly beaten
  • 1/3 cup lightly packed basil, torn or chiffonade, plus more for garnish
  • 1/4 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, plus more for serving
  • coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 pound ziti, rigatoni, rotini, fusilli, shells, or campanelle pasta
  • 1 pound fresh mozzarella, torn into 1-inch pieces
  • 28 oz (about 3 cups) prepared marinara sauce
  1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees, preferably on convection.
  2. In a large bowl, combine the pork, beef, bread crumbs, eggs, 1/3 cup torn basil, 1/4 cup of Parmesan and 1 teaspoon each of salt and pepper; mix well.
  3. Using a cookie scoop, form the meat mixture into one-inch balls.
  4. In a 9-by-13-inch ceramic baking dish, spread half of the pasta in an even layer.
  5. Arrange half of the meatballs (about 16) and mozzarella on the pasta.
  6. Spoon half of the marinara on top and season with 1/2 teaspoon of salt.
  7. Repeat with the remaining pasta, meatballs, cheese, and marinara. Season with 1/2 teaspoon of salt.
  8. Place baking dish on a rimmed cookie sheet. Add 2 1/2 cups of water to the baking dish and cover tightly with foil.
  9. Bake for about 1 hour, until the pasta is tender and most of the liquid is absorbed.
  10. Uncover and bake for 5 minutes longer, until lightly browned.
  11. Let stand for 5 minutes. Garnish with basil and parmesan and serve.

Make Ahead: The baked pasta can be refrigerated overnight. Reheat gently.

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Baked Risotto with Peas, Asparagus, & Pancetta

In case you were worried that I wasn’t embracing early spring vegetables… I have another asparagus and pea recipe to share! 😉

I almost exclusively use my pressure cooker just to make risotto. It converts an otherwise time-consuming dish into a lovely weeknight meal. Well, baking risotto performs similar magic. Fabulous!

This recipe was adapted from TheKitchn.com, contributed by Nealey Dozier. This risotto could also be par-baked in advance, the night before, and reheated on the stovetop with one or two cups of additional stock prior to serving. Perfect when entertaining guests.

Yield: Serves 4 to 6

  • 4 ounces finely chopped pancetta (or olive oil for vegetarian version)
  • 3 tablespoons unsalted butter, divided
  • 2 large shallots (4 cloves), finely chopped
  • 1 1/2 cups Arborio rice
  • 1/2 cup dry white wine
  • 4 1/2 cups chicken or vegetable stock
  • 1 cup fresh or frozen green peas
  • 1 pound pencil-thin asparagus stalks, cut into 3/4-inch pieces
  • 1/2 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano or Parmesan cheese, plus extra for serving
  • 1/2 teaspoon lemon zest, or to taste
  • coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper
  1. Preheat oven 400°F, preferably on convection.
  2. Heat a large Dutch oven over medium-high heat until very hot but not smoking. Add pancetta and cook, stirring occasionally, until crisp, about 6-8 minutes. Remove with a slotted spoon and set aside.
  3. Reduce heat to medium. Add 1 tablespoon butter and shallots to the pancetta drippings and cook until softened, about 3-5 minutes. Add the rice and sauté until every grain is coated with butter, about 1 minute.
  4. Increase heat to high. Pour in the wine and simmer until the liquid evaporates. Add stock and bring to a boil, stirring occasionally. Season generously with salt and pepper.
  5. Cover the pot and transfer to the oven. Cook until the liquid is almost cooked out and the risotto is creamy, about 20 minutes.
  6. Remove from the oven and place over moderate heat. Stir in peas and asparagus and cook until the vegetables are bright green and warmed through, about 5 minutes.
  7. Stir in remaining 2 tablespoons butter, Parmesan, and lemon zest. Taste and season with salt and pepper, if needed. Garnish with additional Parmesan and reserved pancetta.

To Make in Advance: Bake the risotto for 15 – 20 minutes. Cool and transfer to the refrigerator. When ready to serve, add 1 1/2 cups hot stock and vegetables and cook over medium heat until warm. Stir in the butter, Parmesan, and lemon zest. Season to taste.

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Cheesy Chicken Enchilada Skillet

Somehow, we seem to always have a conflict with a having timely Cinco de Mayo feast. This year, my son has his Swim Club Dinner Dance (at an Italian restaurant, by the way), so, we had our feast early. This way, there is also time to have a second feast. Good planning, right?

This quick and easy, crowd-pleasing dish was perfect for our early Cinco de Mayo celebration. It would be perfect for a Mexican-inspired weeknight meal any other day of the year too. We enjoyed it with chips and guacamole, of course. 😉

This recipe was adapted from Epicurious.com, contributed by Anna Stockwell. I reduced the oven temperature, and increased the proportions as well as the pan size. Great.

Yield: 6 to 8 servings
Total Time: 30 minutes
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons canola oil
  • 1 large yellow onion, chopped
  • 6 garlic cloves, finely chopped
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons ground cumin
  • 1 1/2  teaspoons kosher salt
  • 24 oz (1 1/2 jars) medium red salsa (I used Trader Joe’s Garlic Chipotle Salsa)
  • 3/4 cup sour cream
  • 6 corn tortillas, torn into quarters
  • 6 cups shredded cooked chicken (from 1 rotisserie chicken)
  • 1 to 2 cans (15.5-ounce each) black beans, drained, rinsed (I used 1 1/2 cans)
  • 1 1/2 cups shredded Mexican cheese blend
  • cilantro, for garnish, optional
  1. Preheat oven to 425°F, preferably on convection.
  2. Combine salsa, sour cream, and 6 T water in a large bowl; stir to combine. Fold in tortillas, chicken, and beans until thoroughly coated.
  3. Heat oil in a 12″ ovenproof skillet over medium. (I used cast iron.)
  4. Add onion, garlic, cumin, and salt and cook, stirring, until softened, about 5 minutes.
  5. Transfer onion mixture to the chicken and bean mixture; reserve hot skillet. Fold to incorporate evenly.
  6. Return mixture to reserved skillet and transfer to preheated oven until warmed through, about 5 minutes. Mixture should be bubbling on the edges.
  7. Remove skillet from the oven. Sprinkle cheese evenly over the top.
  8. Return skillet to oven and bake until cheese is lightly browned, melted and bubbling, about 7 to 10 minutes.
  9. Top with cilantro, if desired.

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Three Cheese Crepe Manicotti

During my college days, I was lucky enough to celebrate Easter with one of my roommates and her large Italian family. It was always an amazing feast. One of the first courses served was a homemade manicotti. I’ve loved it ever since- and now think of it in the springtime.

I was drawn to the “French” twist in this version, using crêpes in lieu of pasta. They were tender and delicious. Lovely.

This recipe was adapted from Food and Wine contributed by Christine Dimmick. I adjusted the seasoning and ratios. I also modified the crêpe batter technique from using a blender to hand-whisking, and to cooking them on a lightly oiled crêpe pan, my tried and true method. This dish could be modified to include any variety of fillings in the crêpes. Next time I may incorporate spinach or mushrooms. 🙂

  • 2 cups ricotta cheese (15 ounces), preferably fresh
  • 1 cup shredded mozzarella (about 6 ounces)(part-skim okay)
  • 2/3 cup coarsely chopped basil, plus more for garnish
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • coarse salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/4 cup water
  • 5 large eggs, lightly beaten
  • vegetable oil, for the pans
  • 3 cups tomato sauce, preferably homemade (I used local Mamma Lombardi’s Marinara Sauce)
  • 2 tablespoons freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
  1. In a large bowl, combine the ricotta with the mozzarella, basil, garlic, 1/2 teaspoon of salt, and the pepper. Taste and adjust seasoning, to taste.
  2. In a bowl, whisk the flour and eggs until thoroughly combined. Add the water and a generous 1/2 teaspoon of salt. Whisk until smooth.
  3. Heat an 8-inch crêpe or omelet pan over moderately high heat. Using a brush, lightly oil the pan and add a small ladle of the batter (about 1/4 cup); working quickly, swirl the pan to coat it evenly.
  4. Cook until the top of the crêpe is dry and the bottom is lightly golden, about 1 minute. Flip the crêpe and cook until the bottom is lightly golden, about 20 seconds longer.
  5. Transfer the crêpe to a large plate and repeat with the remaining batter to make a total of 16 crêpes.
  6. Preheat the oven to 375°, preferably on convection.
  7. Coat the bottom of a 3-quart baking dish with 1 cup of the tomato sauce.
  8. Arrange the crêpes on a work surface. Spoon 2 tablespoons of the ricotta filling in a line down the center of each crêpe. Loosely roll up the crêpes, burrito-style with ends folded in, and arrange them, seam side up, side by side in the baking dish. (I placed them in 2 rows of 8 crêpes.)
  9. Pour the remaining 2 cups of tomato sauce over the manicotti and sprinkle with the Parmesan cheese.
  10. Cover the pan tightly with foil and bake for 15 minutes. Uncover and continue to bake for an additional 5 minutes, or until the tomato sauce is bubbling and the manicotti are heated through.
  11. Garnish with basil, if desired. Serve piping hot.

Make Ahead: The unbaked manicotti can be refrigerated overnight. Allow up to 15 minutes longer for baking.

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Butternut Squash Bread Soup (Panade de Butternut)

This dish could have fed an army. It was GIGANTIC.  I would describe it as French onion soup meets oozy casserole. Full-flavored, cheese-covered comfort food. The thinly sliced butternut squash and fresh herbs layered into the bread, caramelized onions, and cheese added a little bit of excitement as well as color and nutrition. 😉

This recipe was adapted from My Paris Kitchen by David Lebovitz. Lebovitz stated that this is one of those dishes that improves as it sits… thank goodness! We had lots of leftovers. 🙂 I added additional homemade stock to the leftovers, before reheating, just to make it a little bit soupier.

Yield: Serves 8 to 10

  • 3 T unsalted butter
  • 3 T olive oil
  • 4 large yellow onions, peeled and sliced
  • 8 cloves garlic, peeled (4 thinly sliced & 4 whole)
  • 2 T mixed fresh thyme and sage
  • 2-pound (900 g) loaf firm-textured sourdough bread, sliced
  • 1/2 cup white wine
  • 2 quarts (2 l) warm chicken or turkey stock, plus additional stock for serving, as desired
  • 2-pound butternut squash or other winter squash such as Kabocha, peeled, seeded and sliced into 1/8-inch slices
  • coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 cups grated Comte, Gruyere, Jarlsberg, or Fontina cheese
  • 1/2 cup (1 1/2 oz /45 g) freshly grated Parmesan cheese (I used Parmigiano-Reggiano)

  1. Melt the butter with the olive oil in a Dutch oven over medium heat. (I used an enameled cast iron Dutch oven.)
  2. Add the onions, 4 cloves of sliced garlic, and 1 teaspoon of the herbs. Cook for about 35 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the onions are completely wilted and beginning to brown on the bottom and edges.
  3. While the onions are cooking, preheat the oven to 375 degrees F (190 degrees C).
  4. Put the slices of bread on baking sheets in a single layer and toast in the oven, turning the slices over midway, until both sides are dry, 10 to 12 minutes. Remove from the oven.
  5. When cool enough to handle, rub both sides of the bread with the whole garlic cloves.
  6. Slice the peeled and seeded squash into 1/8-inch slices. (I used a mandoline.)
  7. When the onions are done, pour in the wine, scraping the bottom of the pan to loosen up any of the flavorful brown bits. Cook for a minute or two, until the wine is absorbed.
  8. Add 2 cups of the stock to the onions and cook until the stock is mostly absorbed 10 to 15 minutes, and then add the rest of the stock and heat until the stock is hot. Remove from heat.
  9. To assemble the Panade, cover the bottom of a 3 to 4 quart (3-4 l), 3+inch (8 cm) deep, baking dish with a layer of bread, breaking any pieces so they fit in a single layer, but keeping them as large as possible.
  10. Ladle about half of the onions and some of the stock over the bread, and then cover with half of the squash slices. Season lightly with salt, pepper, and half of the remaining herbs.
  11. Sprinkle with 1/2 cup (40 g) of the Comte.
  12. Add a second layer of bread and ladle the rest of the onions and more stock over the bread. Cover with remaining squash slices. Season the squash with salt, pepper, and the remaining herbs.
  13. Sprinkle another 1/2 cup (40 g) of Comte over the squash layer.
  14. Cover the squash with a final layer of bread and then ladle the rest of the stock over the bread.
  15. Press down on the ingredients to encourage them to meld together.
  16. Top with remaining 1 cup (90 g) Comte, and the Parmesan.
  17. Cover the baking dish with aluminum foil and tighten it around the edges. Don’t press it down on the surface or some cheese may stick to the foil during baking.
  18. Set the baking dish on a parchment paper or foil-lined rimmed baking sheet to catch any spills.
  19. Bake for 45 minutes, uncover the Panade, and bake for another 30 minutes, or until it is very well browned and crisp on top.
  20. Let cool for about 15 minutes before serving. Spoon portions into shallow soup bowls, making sure each serving is topped with crusty topping.

I’m bringing my dinner-party ready comfort food to share at Angie’s Fiesta Friday #164 this week, hosted by Jhuls @The Not So Creative Cook. Enjoy!

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Vegetable Shepherd’s Pie

This was casserole was truly a one-dish meal. It is so loaded with vegetables, I didn’t feet the need to serve it with a salad or other green on the side. 🙂 We enjoyed it as our celebratory St. Patrick’s Day dinner this year. The “meaty” combination of lentils and mushrooms in this dish made my meat-loving family members happy. Don’t worry… they had corned beef sandwiches for lunch too.

My riced-potato topped casserole was filled with lentils, mushrooms, fresh herbs, as well as roasted cauliflower, butternut squash, and carrots. The sauce was flavored with dried porcini mushrooms, wine, onions, and loads of garlic. It was fabulously saucy with layers of rich flavor.

This recipe was adapted from Bon Appetit. Next time, I would prepare the components of the dish a day in advance, as much as possible. The potato topping would ideally be prepared in advance at the very least. This delicious dish was absolutely worth the work and the wait! Great.

Yield: Serves 8 to 10

For the Topping:

  • 3 pounds russet potatoes, unpeeled
  • 3 pounds Yukon Gold potatoes, unpeeled
  • ½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, cut into ½” cubes
  • about 3/4 to 1 cup milk (I used 1 percent)
  • coarse salt

For the Filling:

  • ¾ cup brown or French green lentils
  • 1 teaspoon coarse salt, plus more for seasoning
  • 17 garlic cloves, divided
  • 5 tablespoons olive oil, divided
  • 1 ounce dried porcini mushrooms
  • 2 large yellow onions, coarsely chopped (about 3-4 cups)
  • 2 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 2 cups dry white wine
  • 8 cups vegetable or chicken stock (I incorporated 4 cups homemade Turkey Stock)
  • 3 tablespoons cornstarch
  • 2 teaspoons light soy sauce or 2 tablespoons white miso
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • 12 cups ½-inch pieces peeled fall/winter vegetables (such as squash, turnips, carrots, and parsnips) (I used 1 medium butternut squash, 1 head of cauliflower, & 2 carrots)
  • 1 cup frozen pearl onions, thawed, halved
  • 2 4-inch sprigs rosemary
  • 10 oz (about 2 cups) bite-size pieces mixed fresh mushrooms (I used sliced cremini & white button mushrooms)
  • ¼ cup chopped mixed fresh herbs (such as parsley, thyme, chives, and sage)

To Make the Topping:

  1. Preheat oven to 450°, preferably on convection.
  2. Bake potatoes on a foil or parchment-lined baking sheet until tender, about 40 minutes for the gold potatoes and 1 hour for the russet potatoes.
  3. Let cool slightly, then peel.
  4. Press potatoes through a ricer, food mill, or colander into a large bowl.
  5. Add butter; stir until well blended.
  6. Stir in milk until desired consistency is achieved.
  7. Season to taste with salt. Set aside.

DO AHEAD: Potatoes can be made 1 day ahead. Let cool, press plastic wrap directly onto potatoes, and chill.

To Prepare the Lentils:

  1. Combine lentils, 1 garlic clove, 1 tsp salt, and 4 cups water in a medium saucepan.
  2. Bring to a boil; reduce heat and simmer, stirring occasionally, until lentils are tender but not mushy, 15–25 minutes.
  3. Drain lentils and discard garlic. Set aside.

To Make the Sauce:

  1. Soak dried porcini in 3 cups hot water; set aside.
  2. Heat 3 T olive oil in a large heavy pot over medium heat. (I used an enameled cast iron Dutch oven.)
  3. Add onions and cook, stirring occasionally, until soft, about 10 minutes.
  4. Add 10 cloves of chopped garlic and cook for 1 minute.
  5. Stir in tomato paste. Cook, stirring constantly, until tomato paste is caramelized, 2–3 minutes.
  6. Add bay leaves and wine; stir, scraping up any browned bits.
  7. Stir in porcini, slowly pouring porcini soaking liquid into pan but leaving any sediment behind.
  8. Bring to a simmer and cook until liquid is reduced by half, about 10 minutes.
  9. Stir in broth and cook, stirring occasionally, until reduced by half, about 40 to 45 minutes.
  10. Strain mixture into a large bowl with a spout. Discard the solids.
  11. Wipe Dutch oven clean and returned strained sauce to pot; bring to a boil. (I had 5 cups of strained sauce.)
  12. Stir cornstarch and 3 T water in a small bowl to dissolve.
  13. Add cornstarch mixture to hot sauce; simmer until thickened, about 5 minutes.
  14. Whisk in soy sauce/miso.
  15. Season sauce to taste with salt and pepper. Set aside.

To Make the Vegetable Filling:

  1. Preheat oven to 425°, preferably on convection roast.
  2. Toss vegetables and pearl onions with remaining 2 T oil, 6 garlic cloves, and rosemary sprigs in a large bowl or on 2 parchment paper-lined rimmed baking sheets; season with salt and pepper.
  3. Divide evenly between the 2 rimmed baking sheets. Roast, stirring once, until tender, 20–25 minutes.
  4. Transfer garlic cloves to a small bowl; mash well with a fork and stir into sauce.
  5. Discard rosemary.

DO AHEAD: Lentils, sauce, and vegetables can be made 1 day ahead. Cover separately; chill.

To Finish the Dish:

  1. Arrange lentils in an even layer in a 3-qt. baking dish; set dish on a foil-lined rimmed baking sheet.
  2. Toss roasted vegetables with fresh mushrooms and chopped herbs; layer on top of lentils.
  3. Pour sauce over vegetables.
  4. Spoon potato mixture evenly over. Swirl decoratively.
  5. Bake at 425°, preferably on convection, until browned and bubbly, about 30 minutes, rotating the pan halfway through the cooking process.
  6. Let stand for 15 minutes before serving.

I’m sharing my St. Patrick’s Day feast at Angie’s Fiesta Friday #163 this week. Enjoy!!

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