Bacon-filled Ravioli with Mushroom Sauce

>> Friday, February 28, 2014

Bacon-filled Ravioli with Mushroom Sauce

These bacon and ricotta filled ravioli were one of my favorite dishes of the evening. Our ravioli chef, Mark Borghetti, whips these out faster than you can imagine. "I'm Italian," he says in his suburban Chicago accent. "You oughta see my mom make ravioli."

Mark uses this pasta roller that clamps to a table or counter and the sheets come out smooth and even. If you don't have this, or a pasta machine, a rolling pin will do. He also has this round ravioli cutter that crimps the edges while it cuts through two layers of pasta, as you can see above. Alas, we don't have this tool either, so next time we make this recipe, we'll be cutting these into squares with a knife.

I hear there's also a thing called a ravioli mold that helps the ravioli-making process in some way. I shouldn't hear about things like this - my kitchen is way too small for any other gadgets or utensils.

Mark says he got the original recipe from The Food Network.


For the dough

4 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
6 large eggs, beaten

For the filling

1 cup sliced yellow onion
8 slices thick-cut bacon, roughly chopped
4 carrots, diced
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
Salt and Pepper to taste
1 1/2 cups fresh parsley, chopped
1/3 cup ricotta cheese
3 ounces gruyere or swiss cheese, grated
2 large egg yolks

For the sauce

4 tbsp butter
Salt and pepper to taste
1 pound assorted mushrooms, sliced
1 clove garlic, minced
4 green onions, chopped
2 pints grape or cherry tomatoes, halved
2 tbsp fresh parsley, chopped
2 tbsp fresh basil leaves, chopped


To make the dough

Put the flour and eggs in a food processor or mixer. Process until the dough clings to the beaters or blades. Turn out the dough on a floured surface and shape into a rectangle. Cover with plastic wrap and set aside 30 minutes at room temperature.

Iron Chef Bacon Cook Off
Let's eat!

To make the filling

In a food processor or blender, blend the onions, raw bacon, and carrots until finely chopped and well mixed. Pour 1 cup of water in a large skillet and heat until boiling. Add the bacon mixture, nutmeg, salt, and pepper, reduce heat to medium, and cook until the water is evaporated and the vegetables start to brown, about 10 minutes. Stir in the parsley, then place in a bowl and let it cool about 15 minutes. Mix in the rest of the filling ingredients and refrigerate until ready to stuff the ravioli. Note: this can be made one or two days ahead of time.

To make the ravioli

Sprinkle the dough with flour and divide into 6 pieces. Shape each piece into a 4" by 2" rectangle. If using a pasta machine, adjust it to the widest setting then roll the pasta through several times, reducing the setting until the pasta is about 1/16th inch thick. If using a rolling pin, turn the dough out on a floured surface and roll it until it is 1/16th inch thick and about 3" wide. Repeat with the rest of the dough.

On a floured surface, lay out one sheet of dough. Scoop out tablespoons of the ricotta filling and place them two inches apart on the sheet of dough, making sure you leave 2 inches along the edges of the dough as well. Place another sheet of dough over the top of the ravioli. Using a ravioli cutter, knife, or pizza wheel, cut out the ravioli. Repeat with the remaining dough and filling.

At this point, you can freeze the ravioli for later (no, eat it now!) or put it in a covered container and refrigerate for another day. Since we weren't going to eat for another hour or so, Mark put his raviolis on a cookie sheet and placed them in the freezer so they would hold together much better when he boiled them.

To make the sauce

Melt the butter in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Stir in the mushrooms, salt, and pepper, and saute until tender, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and green onions, and cook and stir for one minute. Add the tomatoes, basil, and parsley, and cook for 3-5 minutes, until the tomatoes are softened.

Boil the ravioli in a large pot for 10 minutes, then remove to a serving platter. Stir 1 1/2 cups of the ravioli cooking water to the sauce, and simmer 5 minutes. Serve with the sauce drizzled over the ravioli or passed in a separate bowl.

Serves 6-8.


Goat Cheese Fruit Salad in Parmesan Baskets

>> Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Goat Cheese Fruit Salad in Parmesan Baskets

I wish I had better photos of these delicate and flavorful little salads, but our Iron Chef Bacon Cook Off was in full gear and there was a lot of action in the room. The recipe is made in two steps, but nothing is very hard about the process. This recipe, crafted by my friend Talea, is definitely a dish to impress and dazzle, and can be either an appetizer or a bit of a side salad. Yum!

Parmesan Baskets


10 ounces coarsely grated Parmigiano-Reggiano or Asiago cheese
1/2 teaspoon coarsely ground multi color pepper medley-optional


Preheat oven to 350 degrees and place the oven rack in the middle of the oven. Grease a muffin tin or use parchment baking cups. Stir together the cheese and pepper, and gently pat into a very thin layer on the bottom and up the sides of each muffin cup.

Bake until bubbly and lightly golden, about 4 minutes. Allow to cool before slipping them out of the pan. These will keep crisp for several days at room temperature in a covered container.

Makes 12 -16 baskets.

Goat Cheese Fruit Salad


1 cup frisee lettuce, torn into bite size pieces (frisee lettuce is that frizzy-looking pale lettuce next to all the specialty lettuces; it has a nice bite to it, but substitute other lettuce if you can't find it)
1 Granny Smith apple, julienned
1 tbsp chopped fresh tarragon
Juice of ½ Lemon
3 slices of bacon, fried crisp and chopped, leave a few crumbs for final topping;
½ cup heirloom tomato, sliced into thin wedges
½ cup toasted Walnuts, chopped
1/4 cup cranberry goat cheese

For the Vinaigrette:

1/3 cup olive oil
3 tbsp pomegranate balsamic vinegar
2 tbsp white wine vinegar
2 tsp honey
1 tsp oriental mustard
1 pinch of salt
½ tsp ground white pepper


For the vinaigrette, beat oil and vinegar until emulsified and then add all other ingredients. Stir until combined. Keep at room temperature until ready to serve.

Add the lettuce to the bottom of the parmesan basket. Mix all other ingredients except the cheese together and place on top of lettuce. Top with goat cheese and vinaigrette.


Bacon and Tomato Bruschetta with Gorgonzola

>> Monday, February 24, 2014

Last weekend a group of my talented foodie friends got together for an Iron Chef Bacon Cook Off party. This quick appetizer was the opening to our meal, from my friends John and Peg. Delicious!


1 loaf French bread
1 jar sun-dried tomatoes
2 plum tomatoes
4 slices bacon, fried crisp
1 cup fresh basil
1 tbsp olive oil
1/2 cup finely chopped Gorgonzola


Slice the bread into 1/2" thick rounds and place on a baking sheet. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

Chop the tomatoes, bacon, and fresh basil, then mix with the olive oil. You can make this up to a day in advance, but let sit for 10 minutes at room temperature.. Pile the mixture evenly on the bread rounds, then sprinkle with the Gorgonzola.

Bake for 10-15 minutes, until the bread is toasted and the topping is hot. Serve immediately.

Makes about 36 bruschette.


Iron Chef Bacon Cookoff Party

>> Sunday, February 23, 2014

Serving: bacon ravioli, bacon-stuffed pork chops, pear salad with pecan and bacon

When you've been craving bacon - which is always, in our home - the best thing you can do is round up a bunch of friends who love to cook and have a massive Iron Chef Bacon Cook Off. This is how we spent last weekend.

Our friends John and Peg hosted, and twelve of us sipped bacon-infused old fashioneds and chopped and baked and rolled our way to a glorious dinner. I love it when dinner takes a couple of hours and we all giggle and sprawl around the table in a food coma, taking just one more bite and a bit more wine.

Iron Chef Friends Bacon Cookoff
We're ready to eat!

I'll be sharing a bunch of my talented friends' recipes over the next month, You'll have these to look forward to:

Bacon and Tomato Bruschetta

Bacon-stuffed ravioli in mushroom sauce

Stacked Bacon-Pecan Pear Salads

Goat Cheese Fruit Salad in Parmesan nests

Chocolate-caramel cheesecake with bacon

Bacon-bourbon brownies with pecans

Chocolate chip candied bacon cookies with bourbon cream

With all the bacon and a healthy helping of wine, we were all a little sluggish and dehydrated the next day, but it was worth every bite.


One-Pan Mac & Cheese with Spinach & Bacon

>> Sunday, February 16, 2014

One-Pan Mac & Cheese with Spinach & Bacon

Everybody's got a box of macaroni and cheese somewhere in the cabinets, right? It's one of my guilty pleasures. Adding spinach, bacon, and a bit more cheese makes this quick dinner more substantial. I made it up the other night while catching up with my daughter Jessie on the phone, and she wanted the recipe right away. I think this qualifies as gourmet First Apartment Food.

So what's up in First Born's and The Boy's life? Along with trudging to work and university in below-zero Polar Vortex weather, they're dog-sitting their aunt's mini dachshund - and enjoying it! This is a little weird for me; like every other mom of twenty-somethings, my memories of her as a teenager blur oddly at times with the adult she is now. And what I remember is being frustrated with cats that needed food and water when she wanted to be left alone and affectionate when she...well...wanted to be left alone. There was a lot of that once.

It's been a whole month since I spent time with her, and I miss her a lot. Last month we got together for a cooking date and made peanut chicken noodles and pork dim sum and hung out all day. Of all the stages of having a daughter, this is most certainly the best stage yet.


1 box macaroni and cheese
4 slices of bacon
2 cups packed baby spinach leaves
3 tbsp butter or margarine
1/2 cup milk
1/8 tsp. ground cayenne pepper
1 tsp onion powder
1/2 cup shredded colby cheese


In a large saucepan, bring 6 cups of water to a boil and add the noodles. Set aside the cheese packet. Boil for 7-8 minutes, until tender. While it's boiling, cut the bacon into 1/2" pieces, and chop the spinach. When the noodles are tender, drain them in a colander.

While the noodles drain, cook the bacon in the saucepan over medium heat. When it is starting to get crispy, drain out the fat and add the spinach and butter. Cook the spinach 1-2 minutes, until it is slightly wilted. Add the milk, cayenne pepper, and onion powder. Stir in the noodles and cheese. When the cheese is melted, serve.

Serves 2-3.


Austrian Cream Cheese Soup

>> Sunday, February 9, 2014

Austrian Cream Cheese Soup

I love food blogging - one of the best parts is that people are always sharing their favorite recipes with me. A few weeks ago in church, my longtime friends Debbie and Steve gave me this recipe for Austrian cream cheese soup that they adored at The Fireside restaurant in Rapid City, South Dakota. They're avid bikers who hit up that restaurant when they would go to the annual Sturgis motorcycle rally.

While I haven't been to the Sturgis bike rally and have yet to own my first motorcycle (sad face), I have the most wonderful memories of South Dakota. I traveled across the entire state on a teen service trip to help the Lakota Native Americans one summer. In big cargo vans, the leaders and teens were amazed at the variety of scenery across the state as we traveled the Badlands, the Black Hills, and through Mount Rushmore. Every hour it seemed the world changed. Grasslands like green flowing oceans, white dusty canyons, and the dark spruce-covered mountains of the black hills stunned us all.

In the Black Hills, I shared one of the most beautiful experiences of my life with my younger daughter Jenn. All the teens paired off for what the leaders called a "trust walk". One teen was blindfolded, and followed the directions of the other teen along a path up the side of a mountain. We gathered at a plateau at the top. The guides took off the teens' blindfolds, and they took in all that was around them: the rank of wooded hills in breathtaking display at sunset in oranges, yellows and greens. Jenn whispered to me that she felt God touching her soul. My soul was moved, too.

The Fireside restaurant in Sturgis is now closed, but this recipe, based on a traditional Viennese cream cheese soup, lives in my friends' memories and mine. We cut down on the fat by trading the 4 egg yolks for 3 whole eggs, and by using low-fat cream cheese, yogurt, and fat-free chicken broth. It's still creamy and delicious, but a bit more heart-healthy.


6 leeks
6 celery stalks
1/3 cup butter
2 tbsp oil
1/3 cup flour
1 1/2 tsp ground white pepper
1/8 tsp nutmeg
8 cups fat-free chicken broth
1 8-oz package low-fat cream cheese, softened
8 oz. plain low-fat yogurt
3 eggs, whipped
1/2 cup shredded sharp cheddar cheese
1/3 cup chives, snipped


Trim the tough outer leaves and the roots off the leeks, and cut the stalks into quarters. Wash out the leaves well - dirt is often trapped between them. Dice the celery and cut the leeks into 1" segments. 

Melt the butter and oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Saute the celery and leeks until tender. Stir in the flour, pepper, nutmeg, and half the broth. Bring to a boil; reduce heat to low and simmer.

Blend the rest of the broth with the eggs, cream cheese and yogurt. Stir the mixture into the soup and let it heat up without boiling, so that the cheese and eggs do not become grainy.

Serve topped with shredded cheese and chives.

Serves 6-8.


Roll-Your-Own Sushi Party

>> Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Roll-Your-Own Sushi Party

I'm hesitant about posting about "how to host a roll-your-own sushi party" because I'd really rather go to each of your homes and make sushi with you. A sushi-making party is the perfect friend experience. Sushi takes a lot of prep but none of it is hard if you have a good sharp knife and a little coordination; the best part is having a glass of wine and catching up with people you love while you julienne vegetables and slice fish into tiny fillets.

I wouldn't say that I could eat sushi every day, but I could eat it a lot, and since you can put an astounding variety of things into them, I could eat a different sushi menu every day. You could start out with a recipe book if you wanted, but it's not necessary. At a recent sushi-making party, we had five cookbooks between the eight of us. But after awhile there were bowls of green onions and spicy tuna and fresh mango slices and an enormous bowl of sushi rice, and everyone improvised the items they put onto hand-formed rice balls and sheets of nori seaweed wrappers.

Starting to make a sushi roll

I'm gonna be realistic and assume you're not all going to invite me to make sushi with you. So here are some tips and ideas for making sushi at home, especially if you have a bunch of friends helping you. We have been making our own sushi for years and have learned a few things about how to help the party flow while actually producing something that wouldn't make a real sushi chef cry.

I originally posted some recipes on my Homemade Sushi post a few years ago (was it really three years ago?). So this post is intended to take the fun a little further with some things we've learned since then. If you have any questions for this avid amateur I'd be glad to answer them.

If you have trouble finding any of these ingredients in mainstream grocery stores, I would like to point you to Asian Food Grocer. I have heard good things about this online store but we live in an area with lots of ethnic variety and have found what we need without their help.

How to Host a Sushi Party

1. Plan for your utensils.

Here are things you'll definitely need on hand. We all had our favorite knives and cutting boards, and several of us brought full sushi dinner place settings which also came in handy when we were rolling.

  • Bamboo mats for making sushi rolls - for 8 people, we used 4 mats; the other 4 people were slicing and forming sashimi
  • Plastic wrap cut to the size of the nori sheets, for making sushi rolls
  • Very sharp knives - we had 6 knives for the 6 people cutting ingredients at the beginning; some knives were just used for raw fish, some for vegetables and fruits
  • Small bowls of vinegar water to seal the sushi rolls and rinse off sticky rice-covered fingers; wet towels are also helpful
  • Chopsticks, plates, and soy dipping bowls
  • Counter/Table space
  • Plenty of cutting boards
Slicing salmon for sashimi

2. Plan who will bring each ingredient to the party.

We made WAY too much food the at our last party. Friends brought home rolls and bits of fish we didn't eat; Joe and I had sushi again the next night, made seared ahi tuna wraps for lunch one day, and used up the rest of our leftovers in a luscious seafood udon soup.

We made sashimi of tamago (Japanese omelet), shrimp, ahi tuna, and smoked salmon. We made sushi rolls of spicy tuna and spicy salmon, California rolls, and rolls that had a mixture of fish, avocado, green onions, mango, and wasabi mayonnaise. Here's a suggestion to feed 8 people:

  • 1/2-1 pound ahi tuna
  • 1/2 pound red snapper filet or smoked salmon 
  • 1/2 pound fresh sushi-grade salmon
  • 1/4 pound crab or crab sticks
  • 1/2 pound shrimp, cooked and cleaned
  • 2 avocados, peeled and thinly sliced
  • 1 small English cucumber, julienned
  • 2 stalks green onions, julienned
  • 1 mango, peeled and pitted
  • 1 small carrot, peeled and julienned
  • 1/3 cup brown or black sesame seeds (toast briefly on a dry hot skillet to intensify the flavor)
  • 1/4 cup fish eggs (the orange fish roe is called tobiko or masago and can be hard to find; try a jar of inexpensive small-egged caviar from the canned meats aisle of the grocery store)
  • 1/2 block cream cheese, cut into thin strips (this works better if you partially freeze it first)
  • Tamago made with 4 eggs
  • Rice vinegar
  • 3 cups uncooked sushi rice
  • 1 piece of Kombu (thick seaweed) for making the sushi rice
  • Chili-garlic paste
  • Soy sauce
  • Pickled ginger
  • Wasabi paste
  • 1/2 cup mayo mixed with 1 tbsp wasabi paste
  • 10 sheets of nori
Tamago sushi and spicy salmon roll sushi

3. Plan the Party.

Once everyone has agreed on what they're bringing, there are a few things the host can do ahead of time. Note that it will take at least an hour, but probably more time to make the sushi, so appetizers and drinks are welcome. Here's a step-by-step plan to get ready for the party.

One Week Before
Finalize the food and utensil assignments; shop.

One Day Before
Make wasabi mayo; if desired, you can make the spicy tuna or salmon a day in advance by mincing 1/2 cup of fish with 3 tbsp chili-garlic paste.

If you'd like to provide a guide to popular sushi rolls, you can print off a list from our sushi post here.

3–4 Hours Before
Chill cold drinks.
Prepare sushi rice and allow it to cool.
Prepare appetizers or starter sushi rolls.

1 Hour Before
Prep ingredients for all sushi rolls.
Set out utensils and prepare a cutting area and a rolling area. We did our cutting in the kitchen, then brought the ingredients to the table and assembled the sushi there.

During the Party
Pour wine, guide slicers and assemblers, and enjoy your friends!

Since many of our friends hadn't made sushi before, we floated between groups showing them how to roll sushi and how thinly to slice different fish. We nibbled as we worked, but then cleared the ingredients off the table and set to eating full platters of sushi in earnest once we had made enough.

That's all there is to it! If you host a roll-your-own sushi party, let me know how it goes.


Sweet Potato-Pear Salad with Walnuts and Potato Crisps

>> Monday, February 3, 2014

Sweet Potato-Pear Salad with Walnuts and Potato Crisps

Ah, this salad fills many of my happy places: sweet and sour, crunch and mellow, nuts, fruits, spice, and tangy fennel vinaigrette. It's a satisfying winter salad recipe I developed from a banquet I attended a week ago.

Last weekend we stayed overnight on Chicago's Magnificent Mile for Joe's company's annual awards banquet. Tucked in between skyscrapers and Water Tower Place, just around the corner from Pizzeria Uno and Due, The John B. Murphy Auditorium was a former mansion turned surgeons club turned banquet venue. It's gorgeous inside and out.

Our banquet was on the second level, where a gorgeous stained glass window shone above a rank of ornately carved wooden thrones. It gave a rather Gothic effect, and I imagine many a young surgeon once trembled under the stern looks of the robed chief surgeons glaring down from this platform. Of course, later in the night the chief executives of Joe's company used these chairs to pose for photos.

John B. Murphy Auditorium, Chicago

This sweet potato-pear salad was one of the most memorable bits of the evening for me, food lover that I am. I was seated at a table with elderly couples who were all talking shop: investment funds and insurance minutiae. I wrote a short story in my head and formulated a recipe for this salad.

Unfortunately, the caterer had some unspecified problem with the rest of dinner and our entrees arrived nearly an hour after the tables in the front had been served. Our poor server was sweating as she faithfully filled our water glasses over and over while waiting for our food to arrive. Later during the mingling time I made friends with the photographer, the bartender, and the band, who knew every song The Carpenters and Anne Murray ever recorded. Thanks to my mom, I knew all the songs too.

So about this salad. A little cinnamon on steamed fruits and potato, a light fennel vinaigrette, toasted walnuts and some crispy potato flakes are about all you need, and you'll crave this over and over. It's filling enough for lunch, and the fruit/vegetable combo is perfect for a satisfying winter salad. If you want to listen to Anne Murray songs while you're eating it, I can recommend a few favorites.


For the dressing

1/2 cup olive oil
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
1/4 cup white vinegar
1/2 tsp sugar
1 tbsp Dijon mustard
3 drops hot sauce
1 tsp ground fennel seeds
1/2 tsp white pepper

For the salad

1 cup sweet potato, peeled and cubed
1 cup pear, cored and cubed
1 cup Red Delicious apple, cored and cubed
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/8 tsp nutmeg
1/2 cup chopped walnuts
1/2 cup sweet potato, shredded
1/4 cup oil
6 cups mixed baby greens
1/3 cup shaved Pecorino-Romano cheese


In a screw top jar, shake together the dressing ingredients. Hold at room temperature.

Microwave or steam the cubed potato, pear, and apple. The sweet potato will take a bit longer to steam than the fruit, so add the fruit after the potato is becoming tender. Toss the fruit with the cinnamon and nutmeg.

In a dry skillet, toast the walnuts on medium heat, shaking constantly, about 5 minutes, or until the nuts are slightly toasted and fragrant. Set aside. Heat the oil in the skillet on medium-high heat, then fry the shredded potato until crisp but not browned. Drain on paper towels.

Arrange the baby salad greens on four serving plates. Sprinkle the potatoes and fruit on the greens, then top with the walnuts, potato crisps, and cheese. Pass the dressing.

Makes 4 large salads.

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