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. ūüôā

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¬į, 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. ūüôā

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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Pasta Primavera with Asparagus, Peas, & Cr√®me Fra√ģche

This quick and fresh dinner was truly springtime on a plate. It uses a combination of early spring vegetables- asparagus, peas, and scallions- which, as the author describes, makes it a “true celebration of the season.”

This recipe was adapted from the New York Times, contributed by Melissa Clark. I modified the proportions and omitted the tarragon. I also used reserved pasta water to adjust the consistency of the sauce. Loved it!

Yield: Serves 6

  • 1/2 pound sugar snap peas, stems trimmed
  • 3/4¬†pound asparagus, ends snapped
  • 3¬†tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1¬†cup fresh English peas
  • 1/3¬†cup (5 large) thinly sliced spring onion, white part only (or use shallot)
  • 5¬†garlic cloves, finely chopped
  • ¬†coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
  • 16¬†ounces pappardelle, fettuccine or tagliatelle, preferably fresh
  • 1¬†cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano, at room temperature
  • 6 oz (3/4 cup)¬†cr√®me fra√ģche or whole milk Greek yogurt, at room temperature
  • 1/4 cup¬†finely chopped parsley
  • 1 tablespoon finely chopped tarragon, optional
  1. Bring a large pot of heavily salted water to a boil over medium-high heat.
  2. While the water is coming to a boil, slice snap peas in half and asparagus stems into 1/4-inch-thick pieces; leave asparagus tips whole.
  3. Melt butter in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add snap peas, asparagus, English peas and onion. Cook until vegetables are barely tender (but not too soft or mushy), 3 to 4 minutes.
  4. Stir in garlic and cook 1 minute more. Season with salt and pepper; set aside.
  5. Drop pasta into boiling water and cook until al dente (1 to 3 minutes for fresh pasta, more for dried pasta). Drain well, reserving 1 cup of pasta water.
  6. Transfer pasta to the skillet of prepared vegetables or to a large bowl.
  7. Immediately toss pasta with vegetables, Parmigiano-Reggiano, cr√®me fra√ģche and herbs.
  8. Thin sauce to desired consistency with reserved pasta water.
  9. Season generously with salt and pepper, if needed, to taste. Serve.

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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 cr√™pes 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 cr√™pe batter technique from using a blender to hand-whisking, and to cooking them on a lightly oiled cr√™pe pan, my tried and true method. This dish could be modified to include any variety of fillings in the cr√™pes. Next time I may incorporate spinach or mushrooms. ūüôā

  • 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¬į, 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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Bucatini with Lemony Carbonara

My son said, “I may not be able to eat another type of pasta for the rest of my life.” If that wasn’t enough, he then added, “This is one of the best dinners I’ve ever eaten.” I’ll take that complement! ūüôā

I must say that the bucatini noodles were wonderful. A perfect complement to this quick and luscious sauce. The added lemon zest and juice in this version of the classic dish balanced nicely with the richness. I also loved the hint of spice from the freshly cracked black pepper.

This recipe was adapted from Bon Appetit, contributed by Chris Morocco. I served it with roasted asparagus on the side. Absolutely fabulous!

Yield: 4 Servings

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 6 to 8 ounces¬†pancetta, cubed, or slab bacon, thinly sliced and cut crosswise into ¬Ĺ-inch pieces
  • 2 large shallots, finely chopped
  • 8 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
  • 1 teaspoon freshly cracked black pepper
  • 16 ounces bucatini or other long-strand pasta
  • coarse¬†salt
  • 2 ounces Parmesan or Grana¬†Padano Parmesan, grated, divided, plus more for serving
  • 2 large egg yolks
  • 1 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest, plus thinly sliced zest for serving (optional)
  • 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
  1. Heat oil in a large skillet over medium. Cook pancetta, tossing often, until browned and crisp, 5 to 7 minutes.
  2. Add shallots and garlic and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened, about 5 minutes.
  3. Add pepper and cook, stirring often, just until fragrant, about 1 minute.
  4. Meanwhile, cook pasta in a large pot of boiling salted water, stirring occasionally, until al dente. Drain, reserving 1¬Ĺ cups pasta cooking liquid.
  5. Add pasta to skillet along with ¬Ĺ cup pasta cooking liquid and 1 oz. Parmesan and toss to coat.
  6. Remove skillet from heat and add egg yolks. Toss again, adding more pasta cooking liquid as needed, until a smooth glossy sauce coats pasta.
  7. Add grated lemon zest, lemon juice, and another 1 oz. Parmesan. Toss to coat, adding more pasta cooking liquid if needed to loosen sauce. (I added a total of 1 cup pasta water.)
  8. Divide pasta among bowls; top with sliced lemon zest and more Parmesan, as desired.

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Roasted Eggplant Lasagna

After making a fabulous dish from this book,¬†Flattened Chicken Thighs With Roasted Lemon Slices, I knew I had to try another. The preparation involved to make¬†this dish was a sharp contrast to the quick-cooking chicken thighs, but I knew it would be worth every minute. Twenty cloves of garlic too! ūüôā

This might be the most labor-intensive lasagna I’ve ever made, but it was certainly one of the best. The recipe was adapted from Mozza at Home: More than 150 Crowd-Pleasing Recipes for Relaxed, Family-Style Entertaining by Nancy Silverton with Carolyn Carreno. I used large eggs and substituted¬†some reduced-fat dairy. I also omitted the olives, straining the b√©chamel, pre-cooking the pasta, as well as broiling the baked lasagna.

Because I used un-cooked pasta when layering my dish, I was not able to use the genius tip of cutting the lasagna prior to baking. Thankfully, I didn’t have any difficultly cutting it after it was fully cooked.¬†Absolutely amazing!!

For the Eggplants:

  • 2 large eggplants (2 to 2 1/2 pounds)
  • 1 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 3 1/2 tsp coarse salt
  • 1/2 cup large garlic cloves (about 20 large cloves), peeled and sliced 1/16 inch thick lengthwise (preferably on a mandoline)
  • 28 ounce can crushed tomatoes (preferably San Marzano)
  • 1 1/2 tsp sugar
  • 1/2 cup (about 3 oz) pitted small black olives, such as Taggiasche, Nicoise, or Kalamata, optional
  • 3 T za’atar or dried oregano
  • 1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/4 tsp red chile flakes

For the Cheese Sauce:

  • 1/2 large yellow Spanish onion, halved root to tip, peeled
  • 4 T (1/2 stick) unsalted butter
  • 1 arbol chile pod
  • 2 fresh or dried bay leaves
  • 1/4 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 1 quart whole milk (I used 2 cups whole milk & 2 cups 1 percent milk)
  • 2 tsp coarse salt
  • 12 ounces (3 cups) shredded low-moisture mozzarella (part-skim okay)
  • 8 ounces (1 cup) fresh ricotta
  • 1/2 cup (about 2 ounces) finely grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
  • 2 large eggs, lightly beaten

For the Pasta & Assembly:

  • 16-ounce package dried lasagna noodles (I used DeCecco)
  • 1 cup (about 4 ounces) finely grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
  1. Prepare the Eggplant: The eggplant is roasted on the oven floor. If using an electric oven, adjust the oven racks so that one is closest to the oven floor and put a pizza stone on it. Preheat the oven to 500 degrees.
  2. Trim and discard the tip and stem ends of the eggplants and cut the eggplants into 1-inch cubes.
  3. Divide the eggplant pieces between two large baking sheets. Drizzle each portion with 1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons of the olive oil. Toss and gently massage the cubes to coat the eggplant. Spread the eggplant cubes out in a single layer on the baking sheets.
  4. Cooking one batch at a time, put one baking sheet on the oven floor or on a pizza stone on the lowest rack and cook for 15 to 20 minutes, until the cubes are dark brown all over and beginning to lose their shape, rotating the baking sheet from front to back and moving the cubes with a metal spatula halfway through the cooking time so that they don’t stick.
  5. Remove the baking sheet from the oven, season with 1 teaspoon of salt; set aside.
  6. Repeat with the second batch of eggplant.
  7. Remove the baking sheet from the oven, season the second baking sheet or roasted eggplant cubes with 1 teaspoon of salt; set aside.
  8. Combine the garlic and the remaining 1/4 cup oil in a large Dutch oven or another large high-sided pot over medium heat.¬†Cook until the garlic is soft and very light golden brown, stirring constantly so it doesn’t burn, about 5 minutes.
  9. Add the tomatoes, sugar, and the remaining 1 1/2 teaspoons salt, stir to combine, and cook the tomatoes for 5 to 6 minutes, until they thicken slightly.
  10. Spoon out and reserve 1/2 cup of the tomato sauce.
  11. Add the roasted eggplant, olives (if using), za’atar or oregano, pepper, and red chile flakes. Stir to combine and cook until the eggplants have taken on the color of the sauce, about 5 minutes. (Add 1/2 cup to 3/4 cup water if the sauce becomes dry or sticky.)
  12. Turn off the heat and set aside while you make the cheese sauce.
  13. Make the Cheese Sauce (& Béchamel): Trim and discard the root end of the onion half. Cut the onion half in half again root to tip so the onion is quartered. Slice 1/4-inch lengthwise.
  14. Combine the butter, onion, chile pod, and bay leaves in a medium heavy-bottomed saucepan over medium-low heat.
  15. Cook, stirring often, until the butter is melted and the onion is soft but not brown, about 10 minutes.
  16. Add the flour, whisking constantly to remove any lumps, and cook for 2 minutes to cook off the flour flavor.
  17. Gradually add 1 cup of the milk, whisking constantly.
  18. Increase the heat to high and cook the sauce, whisking constantly, until it begins to thicken, about 1 minute.
  19. Add another cup of the remaining milk, whisking constantly.
  20. Return the sauce to a boil and add the remaining 2 cups milk, whisking constantly.
  21. Return the sauce to a boil, reduce the heat to low, and simmer, whisking or stirring constantly, until the sauce is thick enough to coat the back of a spoon, 3 to 4 minutes.
  22. Turn off the heat and stir in the salt.
  23. Remove and discard the chile pod and bay leaves.
  24. With a ladle, remove 1 cup of the béchamel; set aside.
  25. Add the mozzarella, ricotta, Parmigiano, and the eggs to the pot with the remaining béchamel and gently whisk to combine.
  26. Adjust the oven rack so that one is in the middle position. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees, preferably on convection.
  27. Assemble & Finish the Dish: Spread 1/2 cup reserved tomato sauce over the bottom of a 13 x 9-inch baking dish.
  28. Lay 6 half-sheets (or 3 full sheets) of lasagna on the bottom of the pan to cover it.
  29. Add half of the tomato-eggplant sauce (about 2 1/2 cups) and spread it evenly over the pasta.
  30. Spoon half of the cheese sauce over the sauce and spread it in an even layer to the edge and into the corners of the pan.
  31. Lay an additional 6 half-sheets (or 3 full sheets) of pasta over the cheese sauce. Press down on the pasta sheets with the palms of your hands to remove air bubbles and to ensure that the layers are flat and even.
  32. Spoon remaining tomato-eggplant sauce over the top; spread evenly.
  33. Spoon remaining cheese sauce over the top; spread evenly and to the edges and corners of the pan.
  34. Lay a final layer of pasta on top.
  35. Using a rubber spatula, gently spread the reserved béchamel evenly over the top of the lasagna.
  36. Sprinkle with Parmigiano.
  37. Put the lasagna on a baking sheet and put it in the oven to bake for 35 to 45 minutes, until the edges are golden brown and puffed up a bit. Rotate the pan halfway through the baking time.
  38. Remove from the oven and let cool for at least 1 hour before serving.

Note: The pasta can be prepared through step #34 a day in advance. Cover the pan and refrigerate until ready to bake.

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Garlicky Spaghetti with Mixed Greens‚Ä©

Almost as a “rule,” I increase the amount of garlic in every dish. Not this one! It incorporated two huge heads of garlic. Just my style. Mmmmm. ūüôā

This recipe was adapted from Food and Wine, contributed by Kay Chun. I also loved that there were so many greens- two pounds!  I used a combination of kale and mixed baby greens. I also used whole wheat spaghetti. Quick, easy, healthy, and great!

I’m bringing this dish to share at my favorite blog party, Angie’s Fiesta Friday #161, co-hosted by Laura @Feast Wisely this week. Enjoy!

Yield: 6 servings

  • 3/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 cup panko
  • 2 tablespoons finely chopped parsley
  • coarse¬†salt
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 pound whole wheat spaghetti
  • 2/3 cup thinly sliced garlic (about 18 cloves or 2 large heads)
  • 2 pounds kale, mustard greens, or other mixed greens stemmed and leaves coarsely torn (24 cups)‚Ä© (I used 1 1/2 pounds kale & 1/2 pound mixed baby chard, kale, & spinach)
  • 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
  1. In a small skillet, heat 1/4 cup of the olive oil. Add the panko and toast over moderate heat, stirring, until golden, about ‚Ä®5 minutes. Stir in the parsley and season with salt and pepper. Transfer to a paper towel‚Äďlined plate to drain; let cool.
  2. Meanwhile, in a pot of salted boiling water, cook the spaghetti until al dente. Drain well, reserving 1 cup of the pasta water.
  3. In a large pot, combine 
the remaining 1/2 cup of oil with 
the garlic and cook over low heat, stirring occasionally, until the garlic is fragrant and 
light golden, 7 to 8 minutes.
  4. In batches, add the greens and cook, tossing, until wilted, about 3 minutes. Season with salt and pepper.
  5. Add the pasta, 1/2 cup of the reserved pasta water and the lemon juice; cook, stirring, until a sauce forms, 2 minutes.
  6. Divide the pasta among bowls and top with the panko.

Note: The toasted panko (without the parsley) can be stored in an airtight container at room temperature overnight. Stir in the parsley before serving.

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