To Taste: Baked Toni

I prefer to cook what my dinner guest craves, so I indulged Dre’s request for baked ziti. I was low on spaghetti sauce and had some veggies that needed to be eaten. I blanched broccoli florets, sauteed mushrooms, onions, & garlic, opened a large can of crushed tomatoes, and warmed them together with seasonings in a saucepan.

Fat Rigatoni

While the sauce simmered, I decided on large rigatoni and boiled them until al dente in salted water. I like fat noodles when making baked pasta dishes as they tend to fill with your sauce when tossed. The jumbo macaronis for my Smokey Bacon Mac & Cheese worked great! I folded ricotta cheese & shredded mozzarella into the warm sauce, tossed it with the cooked rigatoni, and dumped it into a greased casserole. Once the sliced mozzarella I tiled on top began to brown & bubble, I pulled it from the over and served Dre a big, hot scoop of Baked Toni.

Baked Toni

Baked Toni

  • Crushed Tomatoes – (1) large can
  • Broccoli – (0.5) head, trimmed into small florets & blanched
  • Mushrooms – (1) cup, sliced
  • Garlic – (1) T, minced
  • Onion – (1) medium, sliced thin
  • Dried Basil – (1) T
  • Red Pepper Flakes – (1) tsp
  • S&P – to taste
  • Ricotta – (1.5) cups, part skim
  • Shredded Mozzarella – (1) cup, low moisture – part skim
  • Fresh Mozzarella – (6) oz, sliced (or enough to cover most of the dish)
  • Grated Parmesan – to taste
  • Rigatoni – (1) lb, cooked al dente & tossed w/ olive oil
  • Olive Oil – as needed
  1. Heat about (2) T of Olive Oil in a saute pan. Add garlic & onion and cook until caramelized, about (5) min.
  2. Add mushrooms & saute until browned on both sides, about (3) min per side.
  3. Dump entire contents of the canned crushed tomatoes into a sauce pan. Add cooked mushrooms mixture, blanched broccoli, dried basil, red pepper flakes, and S&P. Stir and bring to a simmer.
  4. While sauce simmers, bring a large stockpot of salted water to a rolling boil. Cook rigatoni until al dente, about (10-12) min.
  5. Drain rigatoni and return to stock pot. Add a bit of olive oil & toss to prevent sticking.
  6. Remove sauce from the heat and dump into a large mixing bowl.
  7. Fold in ricotta & shredded mozzarella cheeses unti combine.
  8. Add rigatoni and toss to coat completely.
  9. Pour the rigatoni & sauce mixture into a greased casserole dish.
  10. Tile sliced fresh mozzarella on top.
  11. Bake at 350 degrees for (25) min or until the cheese is browned & the casserole is bubbling.
  12. Let cool for about (3) min and serve with grated parmesan cheese.
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Leftover Lightning! Smoked Mozz, Bacon, & Roasted Chicken Hoagie!

While out shopping for my Black Friday dinner, I popped into Chickie’s Italian Deli in South Philly to finally try their Fried Tomato Special. The base is Fried Tomatoes, Bacon, Roasted Peppers, & Lettuce on a famous Sarcone’s Roll.  I added on Turkey, Fresh Mozzarella & Mayo. DELISH! And on top of that, the kind lady behind the counter handed me a complimentary full Sarcone’s Roll. They’re perfect – soft and airy on the inside, with a crusty sesame seed crusted shell. It was like the sammie gods were calling upon me to create a delicious one of my own!

Sarcone's Roll

I had some Roasted Tomato, Mushroom, & Smoked Mozzarella Chicken Breasts left over along with some cooked Bacon and extra Smoked Mozz. I sliced the roll, whipped up some Sriracha Mayo, and piled on the goods. And, oh, was it GOOD!

Smoked Mozz, Bacon, & Roasted Chicken Hoagie w/ Sriracha Mayo, Roasted Tomatoes, & Sauteed Mushrooms on a Sarcone's Roll

To Taste: Smokey Bacon Mac & Cheese

Dre’s main request for Friday’s dinner was Mac & Cheese WITH BACON to accompany my Roasted Tomato, Mushroom, & Smoked Mozz Stuffed Chicken Breasts. On a shopping trip last week, I picked up the most adorable red casserole dish and this was the perfect opportunity to christen it. I needed to refresh myself on Mac & Cheese basics and Alton Brown seemed like my go-to man. I forgot how easily you can turn a basic rue, some milk, onion, & cheese (and bacon, of course) into the most comforting of foods. Mmmm, Mac & Cheese!

Shredded Mozz, Cheddar, Smoked Gouda, & Velveeta

I put Dre in charge of finishing up the Mac & Cheese. He crumbled bacon and tossed it into the macaroni & melty cheese mixture. The jumbo macaroni were perfectly filled up with the bacon & gooey cheesiness. He gets half the credit on this cooking venture for that move!

Smokey Bacon Mac & Cheese

No Baked Mac & Cheese is complete without a crunchy crust and why not have it add to the cheesiness! Dre crushed up some Cheez-Its, tossed with melted butter, and sprinkled on top. It added a crunchy texture to the creamiest, yummiest Mac & Cheese I’ve ever tasted, if I do say so myself! And how cute is that casserole dish?!

Smokey Bacon Mac & Cheese w/ a Cheez-It crust

Smokey Bacon Mac & Cheese

adapted from Alton Brown’s Macaroni & Cheese Recipe

  • Macaroni – (1) lb, cooked al dente
    • Farfalle, Orchiette, Spirals & Shells all work well, too
  • Butter – (3) T + (2) T
  • Flour – (3) T
  • Milk – (3) cups
  • Whole Grain Mustard – (1) T
  • Paprika – (2) tsp
  • Bay Leaf – (1)
  • White Onion – (1/2) med onion, chopped
  • Shredded Cheeses – (4) cups or more
    • I used (2) cups Mild Cheddar, (2) cups Mozzarella, & (1) cup of Smoked Gouda
  • Velveeta – (8) oz, cubed
  • Smoked Bacon – (4-5) slices, cooked & chopped (optional, I guess…)
  • Cheez-Its – (1.5) cups, crushed
    • Next time, Goldfish!
  1. Cook macaroni until al dente. Drain and set aside.
  2. Pre-heat oven to 375 degrees.
  3. Melt (3) T of butter in a heavy pot on Med and add flour. Stir for about 5 min until it turns a light caramel brown, watching closely.
  4. Add Milk, Mustard, Paprika, Bay Leaf, Onion, & S&P and stir. Bring to a simmer on Med for about 5 min. Remove Bay Leaf.
  5. Immediately add the cheese mixture to the pasta in a large bowl or your stock pot and coat. The bacon crumbles can go in now, too.
  6. Pour mixture into a large, greased baking dish or casserole.
  7. Crush (1.5) cups of Cheez-Its in a sealed plastic baggie and then toss with (2) T melted Butter in a bowl. Sprinkle over Mac & Cheese.
  8. Bake for about 30-40 min until bubbling. Remove and let it sit for (5) min before eating.

Leftover Lightning! Roasted Turkey, Zucchini, & Tomato Pizza!

I’m enjoying the house to myself for an evening, which usually means I have to cram a bunch of relaxation & chores into one night. Amongst laundry, the World Series, & making homemade Apple Butter for Dre, I needed to make sure I had a good dinner to keep me going. I’ve been getting back into cooking on the regular, but kept it fairly easy this week as I’m battling the infamous flu. Luckily, I had plenty of leftovers to work with: Pizza Sauce from Lazaro’s delivery on Sunday (Mmmm, Garlic Knots!); leftover Dijon Turkey Tenderloin, Roasted Zucchini & Grape Tomatoes from Monday’s quick din; and, a leftover 8″ mini Boboli shell (leftover from last night as I pretty much ate this exact dinner). I layered the pizza with sauce, diced turkey, & veggies and topped with shredded Mozzarella & Smoked Gouda (my fave, still leftover from Make Your Own Pizza night). 10 minutes in the toaster oven on 450 and YUMMM!

Roasted Turkey, Zucchini, & Tomato Pizza via Leftovers

Leftover Lightning! Hot Pockets!

Sarah was kind enough to leave behind some Pizza Dough for us to experiment with after our “Build Your Own Pizza Night”, describing it as the “weird batch”. Dre & I decided to give its “weirdness” a whirl with some Sunday night stromboli & calzone.

Sarahs Weird Delicious Dough!

Sarah's "Weird" Delicious Dough!

I fulfilled my new addiction to the sweetness of Roasted Tomatoes by popping a batch in the oven while I began filling the dough. I opted for leftover Roasted Yellow Peppers & Zucchini from our “Build Your Own Pizza Night” with Sweet Italian Turkey Sausage, Mozzarella, Asiago, Tomato Sauce, & Fresh Basil. Per my lactose intolerant boyfriend’s nonsensical request, I filled his with “just cheese” including Mozzarella, Asiago, & Ricotta with a swipe of Tomato Sauce, a layer of Roasted Tomatoes, chopped Fresh Basil, & extra Minced Garlic. They weren’t too pretty going into oven once folded and likewise once they were baked, but they were delicious! The “weird” dough created a flaky crust a la a homemade Hot Pocket, versus a traditional stromboli/calzone crust. Yum!

My Veggie Hot Pocket

My Roasted Veggie "Hot Pocket"

Dres Cheesey Tomato Hot Pocket

Dre's Cheesy Tomato "Hot Pocket"

Family-Style: Build Your Own Pizza

Last season of Top Chef, we started a tradition of “Family Dinners” at my house to watch each week’s episode along with a home-cooked meal! Tom, Dre, & Lex were the regulars at last season’s dinners, but couldn’t be happier to add Sarah to this year’s season. She brought along her homemade pizza dough for the return of Top Chef AND the return of “Build Your Own Pizza Night,” my favorite dinner theme!

The original plan was to do grilled pizzas, but after a summer of cooking and roasting Grape Tomatoes (via The Bitten Word’s amazing recipe) & Yellow Bell Peppers for pizza toppings, my grill ran out of gas. At least we always have the oven for back-up. I also prepared sauteed Zucchini, Chicken Andouille Sausage, Crab Meat, & Creole Shrimp, along with shredded Mozzarella, Smoked Gouda, Asiago, & Ricotta Cheeses, as topping options. Can’t forget some tomato sauce, as well! We all got to loading our shells with Dre opting for a Crab White Pizza & Tom piling on just about everying!

We were 3 episodes behind with all of our busy schedules, so we got together on a Thursday night to cook & recap via the DVR while the pizzas baked to perfection…

Dres Crab White Pizza - Pre-Baked

Dre's Crab White Pizza - Pre-Baked

My Pizza w/ the works

My Pizza w/ the works

Build Your Own Pizza Night

Homemade Pizza Dough a la Sarah

Roasted Tomatoes, Yellow Bell Peppers, & Zucchini

Chicken Andoille Sausage

Crab Meat

Creole Shrimp

Mozzarella, Smoked Gouda, Asiago, & Ricotta

Fresh Basil & Lemon-Thyme