Vegetarian Skillet Stuffed Shells

This one-pan, stovetop recipe turns cheesy stuffed pasta into a weeknight dinner. It was a perfect crowd-pleasing dish to serve on a chilly evening. Jarred marinara is used as a shortcut- enhanced with buttery sautéed garlic and red pepper flakes. Great.

This recipe was adapted from epicurious.com, contributed by Anna Stockwell. I modified the proportions and method, and used dried oregano. I recommend eating it with crusty bread or garlic bread to mop up the sauce.

Yield: Serves 4 to 6

  • 20 jumbo pasta shells (about 6 to 6.5 oz)
  • 1 tsp kosher salt, divided, plus more to taste
  • 2 T extra-virgin olive oil
  • 8 to 10 oz crimini mushrooms, thinly sliced
  • 1 tsp freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/2 cup dry white wine or vermouth (I used Pinot Grigio)
  • 5 oz baby spinach
  • 6 to 9 large garlic cloves, thinly sliced
  • 2 T unsalted butter
  • 24 to 28 oz jarred marinara sauce (I used 28 oz Rao’s Marinara)
  • 1/2 tsp crushed red pepper flakes
  • 2 cups (15 to 16 oz) whole-milk ricotta
  • 3 oz finely grated Parmesan (about 1 cup), plus more for serving (I used Parmigiano-Reggiano)
  • 2 T finely chopped fresh oregano or 2 tsp dried oregano
  • fresh parsley or oregano, chopped, for garnish, optional
  • crusty bread or garlic bread for serving, optional
  1. Cook shells in a large pot of boiling salted water, stirring occasionally, until very al dente, about 9 minutes; drain. Run under cold water to stop the cooking; drain again. (I cooked 22 shells just to be safe but only used 20.
  2. Meanwhile, heat oil in a large skillet (with a lid) over medium-high. (I used a large, wide enameled cast iron pan.)
  3. Add mushrooms and cook, stirring occasionally, until they release juices, then are dry again and nicely browned, 5–10 minutes; season with black pepper and 1/2 tsp salt.
  4. Reduce heat to medium, add wine, and cook, stirring, until reduced by half, 30 seconds to 1 minute.
  5. Add spinach, stir, cover, and cook until beginning to wilt, 1–2 minutes.
  6. Uncover and continue to cook, stirring occasionally, until spinach is completely wilted and most of the liquid is evaporated, 2–4 minutes more. Transfer mushroom mixture to a large bowl; reserve skillet.
  7. Add ricotta, Parmesan, 2 T fresh oregano or 2 tsp dried oregano, and remaining 1/2 tsp salt to mushroom mixture and stir to combine. Taste and adjust seasoning, to taste.
  8. Spoon about 2 T ricotta mixture into each shell. The shell should be filled to capacity but not overstuffed. (I used a cookie scoop to ration the filling.)
  9. Cook garlic and butter in reserved skillet over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally, until garlic is fragrant and beginning to brown, 2–3 minutes.
  10. Add marinara sauce and red pepper flakes and bring to a simmer over low heat. Cook, stirring occasionally, until warmed through, 6–8 minutes.
  11. Nestle stuffed shells into hot sauce in skillet.
  12. Cover and cook over medium-low heat until shells are warmed through, 5–6 minutes.
  13. Remove from heat and let sit 5 minutes.
  14. Sprinkle with Parmesan and chopped fresh parsley or oregano. Serve with crusty bread or garlic bread, as desired.

Red Lentil Soup with Warm Spices

I absolutely love red lentil soup. I have made several versions and I have always been pleased with the results. It’s easy, healthy, and delicious. This version was incredibly creamy. I loved the pop of color from the flavorful toppings too.

This recipe was adapted from America’s Test Kitchen. I modified the proportions. We ate it with a green salad and warm naan- a perfect light dinner. Vegetable stock can be substituted for the chicken stock for a vegetarian version.

Yield: Serves 8 to 10

For the Soup:

  • 4 T unsalted butter
  • 2 large onions, chopped fine (I used a food processor)
  • coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 1/2 tsp ground coriander
  • 1 tsp ground cumin
  • 1/2 tsp ground ginger
  • 1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
  • pinch cayenne
  • 2 T tomato paste
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 8 cups chicken stock (I used 4 cups chicken stock & 4 cups homemade turkey stock)
  • 4 cups water
  • 21 ounces (3 cups) red lentils, picked over and rinsed
  • 4 T (1/4 cup, about 1 lemon) freshly squeezed lemon juice, plus extra for seasoning

For the Topping:

  • 4 T unsalted butter
  • 3 tsp dried mint, crumbled (I omitted it)
  • tsp paprika
  • 1/2 cup fresh cilantro, chopped

To Make the Soup:

  1. Melt 4 tablespoons butter in large saucepan over medium heat.
  2. Add onion and 2 teaspoons salt and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened but not browned, about 5 minutes.
  3. Add coriander, cumin, ginger, cinnamon, cayenne, and 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper and cook until fragrant, about 2 minutes.
  4. Stir in tomato paste and garlic and cook for 1 minute.
  5. Stir in broth, water, and lentils and bring to simmer. Simmer vigorously, stirring occasionally, until lentils are soft and about half are broken down, about 15 minutes.
  6. Whisk soup vigorously until it is coarsely pureed, about 30 seconds. Stir in lemon juice and season with salt and extra lemon juice to taste. Cover and keep warm. (Soup can be refrigerated for up to 3 days. Thin soup with water, if desired, when reheating.)

To Make the Topping:

  1. Melt remaining 4 tablespoons butter in small skillet or in the microwave. (I only did 1/2 of the topping because I froze 1/2 of the soup!)
  2. Remove from heat and stir in mint and paprika, as desired.
  3. Ladle soup into individual bowls, drizzle each portion with spiced butter (about 1 teaspoon), sprinkle with cilantro, and serve.

One-Pan Orzo with Spinach & Feta

This is another weeknight dish loaded with spinach. I also incorporated my CSA turnip greens. It features many of the flavors of my favorite Greek dishes, including lemon zest, feta, and fresh herbs. I used parsley from my CSA share as well.

This recipe was adapted from The New York Times, contributed by Melissa Clark. It was very quick and easy to prepare. I used a large, wide enameled cast iron pot. I increased the amount of garlic and modified the cooking method.

Yield: 3 to 4 servings

  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 4 large scallions, trimmed and thinly sliced, divided
  • 2 to 4 large garlic cloves, minced
  • 8 ounces baby spinach leaves (8 cups), coarsely chopped (I used 6oz spinach and 2oz turnip greens)
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 3/4 cups chicken or vegetable stock
  • 1 cup orzo
  • 1 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest (from 1 lemon)
  • 3/4 cup crumbled feta (3 ounces), plus more for garnish
  • 1/2 cup frozen peas, thawed
  • 1 cup fresh dill, or use parsley or cilantro, chopped
  1. Heat a 10-inch skillet over medium, then melt butter, 30 seconds to 1 minute. (I used a large and wide enameled cast iron pot.)
  2. Stir in about three-quarters of the scallions (saving some of the green parts for garnish) and garlic, and cook until softened, stirring frequently, about 1 to 2 minutes.
  3. Stir in stock and bring to a simmer.
  4. Stir in orzo, lemon zest and 1/2 teaspoon salt. Cover and simmer over medium-low heat until orzo is nearly cooked through and most of the liquid is absorbed, 8 to 10 minutes, stirring once or twice.
  5. Stir in spinach (and other greens, if using), adding in batches if it doesn’t all fit in the pan at once, and 1/2 teaspoon salt. Continue to cook, stirring occasionally, until spinach is wilted, about 2 minutes.
  6. Stir in cheese, peas, and dill/parsley/cilantro, cover the pan, and cook for another 1 minute, to finish cooking and warm the peas.
  7. To serve, sprinkle with more cheese and the reserved scallions.

Vanilla Bean Spritz Cookies

Classic butter cookies are my husband’s absolute favorite, so I had to try this vanilla bean version. He loved them! They are dangerously easy to make too.

This recipe was adapted from The New York Times, contributed by Melissa Clark. I used the ground cinnamon option, varied the shapes, and topped the cookies with festive colored sugars prior to baking.

Because the cookies are quite fragile, the original recipe suggests making them into sandwich cookies, filled with chocolate, Nutella, or thick jam, to increase their stability for shipping. We ate them as is!

Yield: about 4 dozen cookies
  • 1 cup/225 grams unsalted butter (2 sticks), preferably cultured, softened
  • 1/2 cup/100 grams granulated sugar
  • 1/4 cup/55 grams light brown sugar
  • 1 large egg, at room temperature
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla bean paste (or use 1 tablespoon vanilla extract)
  • 1 teaspoon grated lemon zest or orange zest, 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon or cardamom, OR 1/2 teaspoon almond extract, optional
  • 2 1/4 cups/290 grams all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt
  • decorative sugar, for sprinkling, optional
  1. Heat oven to 350 degrees, preferably on convection.
  2. Using an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment or a handheld electric mixer, beat butter and sugars on medium speed until light and fluffy, 2 to 3 minutes.
  3. Add the egg, vanilla and the zest, spices or almond extract (if using), and mix until well combined and smooth.
  4. Reduce speed to low, and gradually add flour and salt until just incorporated.
  5. Load dough into a cookie press. Following the directions that came with your cookie press (models can vary), push the dough onto ungreased baking sheets, leaving about 1/2 to 1 inch between cookies.
  6. Sprinkle cookies with decorative sugar.
  7. Bake until firm to touch and golden brown at edges, about 8 to 9 minutes, or longer (up to 17 minutes) depending upon the size of your cookie press.
  8. Transfer cookies onto a wire rack to cool completely.

Our festive 2020 “Gingerbread Mansion” (photo above). 🙂

Stovetop Mushroom Lasagna

This easy and creamy vegetarian stovetop lasagna was very well received by my family. 😉 The original recipe said that it wasn’t as pretty as a typical baked and layered lasagna, but I thought that it looked pretty appealing.

The recipe was adapted from Bon Appétit, contributed by Sarah Jampel. I increased the amount of mushrooms and garlic. I also used no-boil lasagna noodles. It is a perfect weeknight dish.

Yield: Serves 4 to 6

  • 5 T extra-virgin olive oil, divided
  • 12 to 16 oz mixed mushrooms (such as maitake, oyster, shiitake, and/or crimini), trimmed, cut or torn into 1″ pieces (I used stemmed & quartered cremini mushrooms)
  • 1 1/2 tsp kosher salt, plus more to taste
  • 2 T thyme leaves
  • 1 large shallot, finely chopped
  • 3 to 6 garlic cloves, finely grated or chopped
  • 2 T all-purpose flour
  • 2 3/4 cups whole milk
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • lemon zest, plus wedges for serving, optional
  • 1/3 cup crème fraîche or thinned sour cream
  • 8 to 9 oz regular lasagna noodles, broken in half (no-boil okay)
  • 4 to 5 oz mozzarella, thinly sliced
  • finely grated Parmesan, for serving
  1. Heat 3 tablespoons of oil in a large high-sided ovenproof skillet (preferably with a lid) or small Dutch oven over medium-high. (I used a large, wide enameled cast iron pot.)
  2. Add mushrooms and cook, undisturbed, until starting to brown, about 4 minutes. Season with salt and cook, tossing occasionally, until golden brown, 5–7 minutes. Transfer to a bowl; mix in thyme.
  3. Meanwhile, finely chop the shallot and garlic cloves in the bowl of a mini food processor.
  4. Reduce heat to medium-low. Heat remaining 2 tablespoons of oil in the pan. Add shallot and garlic and cook, stirring, until starting to soften, about 1 minute.
  5. Sprinkle flour over and cook, stirring, until golden, about 1 minute.
  6. Add milk, pepper, 1 1/2 teaspoons salt, and 1 3/4 cups water, then finely grate zest of 1/4 lemon into pan. Stir to dissolve flour, increase heat to medium, and cook until gently bubbling.
  7. Reduce heat to low, whisk in crème fraîche (or sour cream), and stir to combine.
  8. Add about one third of noodles, pushing down into sauce to submerge, followed by a third of the mushrooms.
  9. Repeat with half of remaining noodles and mushrooms.
  10. Top with another layer of noodles. **Set remaining mushrooms aside.**
  11. Cover with a lid or foil and cook 15 minutes. (If lasagna threatens to boil over, use very lowest heat and/or prop open the cover.)
  12. Uncover; cook, gently lifting and separating noodles occasionally with tongs or a spatula to let sauce flow around, until sauce is thickened and noodles are cooked through, 6–10 minutes. Mixture should be bubbling gently; adjust heat as necessary. Remove from heat.
  13. Heat broiler. Top lasagna with mozzarella and reserved mushrooms.
  14. Broil until cheese is bubbling and browned in spots, about 2 minutes.
  15. Finely grate more lemon zest over. Sprinkle with Parmesan; season with pepper.
  16. Let sit 5–10 minutes. Cut lemon into wedges, if desired, and serve with lasagna.

Caramel Apple Dapple Cake

I love a quick cake. I have made this one on a couple of occasions! It is a wonderful seasonal treat. Apparently, it is named a “dapple” cake because the apple chunks create a rippled effect on the surface of the cake where the glaze can settle. The coffee in the batter balances the sweetness and gives it a beautiful brown color.

This recipe is from Midwest Made: Big, Bold Baking from the Heartland by Shauna Sever. I weighed the ingredients and used heavy cream in the glaze. We ate it for dessert but it could also be served as a coffee cake. Super moist and yummy.

Yield: One 9×13 cake, about 12 to 15 servings

For the Cake:

  • nonstick cooking for pan
  • 320 g (2 1/2 cups) unbleached all-purpose, spooned and leveled
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1 tsp fine sea salt
  • 1 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp freshly grated nutmeg
  • 113 g (1/2 cup) unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 150 g (3/4 cup) granulated sugar
  • 170 g (3/4 cup) firmly packed light brown sugar
  • 2 tsp pure vanilla extract
  • 1/4 cup (4 T, 57 g) canola or vegetable oil
  • 2 large eggs, cold
  • 3/4 cup (170 g) lukewarm brewed coffee
  • 4 cups peeled, cored, and chopped Honeycrisp apples (cut into 1/2-inch/1.25 cm pieces)(I used 2 very large apples)

For the Glaze:

  • 170 g (3/4 cup) firmly packed light brown sugar
  • 4 T (57 g) unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
  • 1/4 cup (57 g) whole milk or heavy cream
  • 1/4 tsp fine sea salt
  • 1/2 tsp pure vanilla extract

To Make the Cake:

  1. Position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat to 350 degrees (180 C), preferably on convection.
  2. Spray a 9×13-inch light-colored metal baking pan with nonstick cooking spray and line it with parchment paper. (I use binder clips to hold the parchment overhang in place to prevent it from falling onto the surface of the cake.)
  3. In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, and nutmeg.
  4. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter on medium-high speed until creamy.
  5. Add the granulated and brown sugars and vanilla; beat until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes.
  6. Reduce the speed to medium-low and slowly stream in the oil until well blended.
  7. One at a time, beat in the eggs.
  8. On low-speed, spoon in half of the flour mixture.
  9. Slowly pour in the coffee.
  10. Stir in the remaining flour until the batter is smooth.
  11. Fold in the apples by hand.
  12. Scrape the batter into the prepared pan and smooth evenly.
  13. Bake until the cake is deeply golden all over, begins to pull away from the sides of the pan, and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean, 40 to 50 minutes. (I baked mine for 40 minutes but may check it even earlier next time.)
  14. Let cool slightly in the pan set on a wire rack.

To Make the Glaze:

  1. In a 1 to 1 1/2-quart (1 to 1.4 L) saucepan over high heat, combine the brown sugar, butter, milk, and salt.
  2. Bring to a full rolling boil, stirring often, and boil until you can see it has thickened slightly, 2 to 3 minutes depending on your pan.
  3. Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the vanilla. (I forgot to do this every time- by accident, of course :/ )
  4. Let the glaze cool just until it stops bubbling.
  5. Pour the hot glaze over the still-warm cake. Working quickly, use a spatula to spread the glaze so thinly and evenly that it covers the entire the surface of the cake.
  6. Let the cake cool completely, uncovered, on the rack.

Note: Leftover cake can be stored loosely covered at room temperature for up to 3 days.

Pumpkin Pie Bars

Pecan pie bars are a favorite Thanksgiving dessert in our house. I chose this pumpkin pie version to serve along with a tried and true brown-butter and vanilla bean apple pie for our intimate Thanksgiving feast. (Yes, we had leftover dessert for at least a week!)

This recipe was adapted from a “staff favorite” Food and Wine recipe, contributed by Sarah Jordan. I appreciated the press-in crust and we all absolutely loved the consistency of the bars. Pie bars have the bonus of easier portion control too- which is crucial on Thanksgiving. 😉 Great.

Yield: Makes on 9×13-inch pie

For the Press-In-Crust:

  • 2 1/2 sticks cold unsalted butter, cut into cubes
  • 1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons light brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
  • 2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour sifted with 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  1. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle, cream the butter with the sugars at medium speed for 2 minutes.
  2. With the mixer at low speed, beat in the sifted flour-and-salt mixture.
  3. Preheat the oven to 350°, preferably on convection.
  4. Line a 9-by-13-inch baking pan with parchment paper, allowing 2 inches of overhang on the 2 long sides. (I used a pyrex pan.)
  5. Transfer the dough to the pan and press it over the bottom and 1 1/4 inches up the side all around. (You can cover the dough with plastic wrap and press with the bottom of a measuring cup.) Be sure the corners are not too thick.
  6. Refrigerate until firm.
  7. Bake the crust for 25 to 35 minutes, until golden brown; halfway through baking, use the back of a spoon to smooth the sides and corners of the crust.
  8. Transfer the pan to a wire rack and let the crust cool before filling.

For the Filling:

  • 1/4 cup dark brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground cloves
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground cardamom, optional (I omitted it)
  • 1/4 teaspoon coarse salt
  • 2 large eggs
  • One 15-ounce can pure pumpkin puree
  • One 12-ounce can evaporated milk
  • Baked Press-In Crust (above)
  • crème fraîche or whipped cream, for serving, optional
  1. Preheat the oven to 425°, preferably on convection.
  2. In a small bowl, whisk the sugars with the spices and salt.
  3. In a medium bowl, whisk the eggs.
  4. Whisk in the sugar mixture, then whisk in the pumpkin puree and the evaporated milk until smooth.
  5. Pour the filling into the crust and bake for 10 minutes.
  6. Lower the oven temperature to 350° and bake for about 25 minutes longer, until the filling is fully set.
  7. Transfer the pan to a rack and let cool completely.
  8. Cut into bars and serve with whipped cream or crème fraîche, as desired.

Note: Bars should be stored in the refrigerator. Serve chilled or at room temperature. (I prepared them a day prior to serving.)

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