Some days, all you need is some comfort food. And man, do these meatballs ever count. Cheese stuffed anything is a good route to go, especially in winter. These were originally a slow cooker recipe, but I used the alternative baked method as I just didn’t have the time to throw these all in and leave them yesterday. Still turned out pretty good.

Mozzarella Stuffed Meatballs
Makes appx 10 to 18 meatballs, depending on the size you make them

Ingredients

  • 1 lb ground beef
  • 1 c panko
  • 1 egg + 1 egg yolk
  • 2 t garlic powder
  • 1 t onion powder
  • 1 T Italian seasoning
  • 1 t sea salt
  • .5 t black pepper
  • 1 small ball fresh mozzarella, cubed

Cube your mozzarella, and freeze for a half hour minimum on a small plate.  Preheat your oven to 400.  While the mozzarella chills, combine all other ingredients in a bowl with your hands until you have a single mass of meat. Remove the mozzarella from the freezer, and taking chunks of meat, place the cheese in the middle of the meat chunk and roll the meat around it (see pic 2 for an example of what putting the cheese in looks like, and what the final meatball looks like. 

Bake for 20 minutes. There will likely be cheese oozing out of the meatballs at the end of the bake time; this is normal, and a sign you did it right. 😛 

And then, dip in some marinara, and enjoy!

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I threw this together quick as a way to use up the last of the cherry tomatoes and basil in the front garden (which, with the way the temps have been dropping at night, are pretty much dead now). Caprese is one of my favorite things to do in the summer months, so getting to translate it to yet another form is even more fun.

Caprese Couscous

Ingredients

  • 1 c water
  • 2 T olive oil
  • 1 c couscous (I used pearl)
  • 1 c cherry tomatoes, quartered
  • 1 8 oz ball mozzarella, cubed
  • 2 T basil, torn
  • 2 large cloves garlic, minced
  • Sea salt and pepper

Quarter your tomatoes, and put them in a small baking dish, drizzling olive oil over them. Roast at 400 for 25 minutes. To the roasted tomatoes, add your cubed mozzarella (to do so, take your ball, and, if pre-sliced, slice into strips horizontally, then vertically. If not sliced, slice a half inch thick, and then do the same.), torn basil, and garlic. Mix, and let sit.

Bring a cup of water and the 2 T olive oil to a boil. Remove from heat, stir in your cup of cous cous and a touch of sea salt, and cover again, cooling for 10 minutes.

Remove the lid, fluff with a fork, and stir into the caprese mix, sprinkling pepper on. And then, enjoy your caprese cous cous!

A good caprese salad is an amazing thing in the summer. However, when you can elevate it by slow roasting the tomatoes (even better if you have a small plant going like I do and it’s going through a late summer resurgence), and adding a pan-seared oven finished steak to the mix, you have what I’m pretty damn sure is the perfect salad. 

Steak Caprese Salad
Lasts 4 to 5 lunches as a side

Ingredients

  • 1 lb pan-seared, oven finished steak
  • olive oil
  • 1 pint cherry tomatoes
  • 1 package of mozzarella pearls, drained
  • salt and pepper
  • basil leaves in whatever amount you prefer, torn

Take your pint of cherry tomatoes, half them, drizzle olive oil over them, and roast for two hours in your oven at 225 degrees, until wrinkled at the edges. Make your steak following the directions linked either before or right after the tomatoes are done roasting.  Let it rest, and slice it thin, and each thin slice in half vertically.

Combine the roasted cherry tomatoes and mozzarella pearls first, tossing to combine; keep all of the tomato juices that come from the roasted tomatoes, it makes a great dressing for this. Then, toss in the steak slices, and the basil to finish, and enjoy your awesome salad.

Caprese is one of my favorite salads (and one of the few salads I can actually stand), period.  I’ve already done a few variants of it on this blog, but making it into what is basically an open faced sandwich is probably going to prove to be another one of those “why did I not do this sooner” things.  

Made a few changes to the original recipe – I like roasted tomatoes way more than fresh tomatoes, so I threw the tomatoes on while the bread baked, and as basil is hard to find fresh around this time of year without paying out the ass for it, I went with dried basil.

Caprese Garlic Bread
Makes 4 half loaves

Ingredients

  • 2 loaves ciabatta bread, sliced in half horizontally
  • 5 cloves garlic, minced
  • 3 T butter, softened (original recommended 4, could probably take it closer to 5 to cover both loaves)
  • 1 16 oz log of presliced mozzarella (you’ll use 9 slices, appx)
  • .5 c balsamic vinegar
  • 2 roma tomatoes, sliced
  • dried basil, salt, and pepper to taste

Preheat your oven to 400 (mine was at 375).  Mince your garlic and mix it with your softened butter, spreading it evenly across your four half loaves.  Place your mozzarella slices (about 3 should cover it) and tomato slices (between 2 to 3, depending on how much you get out of your tomato) on the buttered loaves.  Put the loaves in the oven for about 15 minutes, until the cheese has melted.

While the loaves are baking, take your half cup of balsamic, bring it to a boil, and then lower the heat to medium, so that it reduces and thickens to about half.  

Once the loaves are out of the oven, sprinkle with the basil, salt, and pepper, and drizzle your thickened balsamic over it.  And then, enjoy your awesome sammich.  Because seriously, the roasted tomato/mozzarella/balsamic combo is sent from god.

After a week of it being what I can only refer to as negative fuckass degrees, it’s finally above zero, and accordingly, warm enough for me to be able to attempt to venture from my bedroom to the kitchen to cook again!  And this is a fantastic way to warm up, and a cheap, hearty meal.  

If you buy the components at this at the right time, this can be a very cheap meal – the chicken was bought from the meat counter of one of the grocery stores on sale and put in the freezer until it was needed, and the pillow packs of pepperoni went on sale for significantly cheaper this week.  Go for fresh mozzarella on this, it’s absolutely worth it.  

Also, this can be a little on the messy side, especially if you don’t have the kitchen space (like I don’t).  I’ll be giving you tips in the recipe to make this a little bit less so.  The recipe is a bit approximate, and is pretty much up to your best judgement in most cases.

Pepperoni Stuffed Chicken
Makes 2x however many chicken breasts you have

Ingredients

  • chicken breasts (try to go for thick ones if you can; I got mine from a meat counter)
  • 1 pre-sliced ball of mozzarella (6 to 8 oz)
  • 1 package pepperoni
  • 2 large eggs
  • flour
  • panko (Japanese bread crumbs)
  • vegetable oil

Take your chicken breasts and clean them (I just had them in a ziplock bag from thawing, so I filled the bag with cold water to clean it). Cut them in half diagonally, so you have two diamondish shapes (see pic 1).  Then, cut a pocket into your chicken, right in the middle of the breast, but not all the way through.  Pic 2 is the best illustration I could get of what your pocket should look like when you’re done cutting it; not all the way through the meat (at least a few cm left on the meat on all three sides), but deep enough to keep the fillings in.

Then, set up a station similar to that for tonkatsuone bowl of flour, one bowl of beaten egg, and one of panko.  Have your pepperoni and mozzarella slices on hand nearby.  Coat the chicken in the flour, then dip it in the egg, and then dunk it in the panko.  Once the chicken has been coated in the panko, open the pocket and stuff a slice of the mozzarella and a few slices of the pepperoni in the center (see pic 3 for an example). 

While you coat your first few chicken breasts, take a frying pan and coat it in vegetable oil, bringing the heat to medium high.  Add the breasts to the heated oil, and fry on each side until the crumbs are golden brown on each side, usually three to five minutes each side (see pic 4 for a good example of the breasts in progress). 

Once your breasts are golden brown, they need to go into a pan, as you’ll be baking them. If you’re like me, you don’t have a lot of space in your kitchen, especially as you’re using the dunking stations.  What I did to save space was to put the pan I was gonna bake the chicken in in the oven, and just transfer the chicken breasts, once golden brown, into the pan (see pic 6.  The oven was then heated to 350 (325 because mine runs hot) once the last two pieces were in the pan, and by the time the last pieces were finished and in the pan, the oven was ready to go.

Once your stuffed chicken breasts are in the oven, bake them for 25 minutes to finish cooking them all the way through.

And then, enjoy the cheesy pepperoni stuffed breasts!  (Hehe. Breasts.)

I probably should’ve started this recipe earlier in the evening, as I finally finished up around 10 PM last night, but that’s what happens when your cooking plans get pushed back due to phone shenanigans and ensuing panic.  

Either way, the end result is absolutely worth it – slow roasted cherry tomatoes, fresh mozzarella, reduced balsamic, and torn basil combine perfectly in this. Just be aware that those tomatoes are gonna be roasting for about 3 hours.

Slow Roasted Tomato Caprese Salad
Lasts 3-4 lunches as side

Ingredients

  • 16 oz cherry tomatoes, halved (I got two pints over two weeks’ time and took a cup out of each for use in the Mediterranean baked feta)
  • 2 T olive oil
  • 1 t coriander
  • pinch salt and pepper
  • 1 head garlic, separated into cloves (but not peeled)
  • 1 c balsamic vinegar
  • 8 oz fresh mozzarella
  • 4-5 leaves fresh basil

Half your cherry tomatoes, and then combine with your unpeeled garlic cloves, coriander, salt and pepper, and olive oil in a small bowl, and toss. While you’re prepping this, preheat your oven to 225 (200 in my case) and line a baking sheet with foil.  Once tossed, arrange the mix on the baking sheet, and roast for three hours, until the tomatoes are wrinkled at the edges. 

About a half hour from the tomatoes being done, put your balsamic vinegar in a pot and simmer, reducing by about half until it’s thick and syrupy (see pic 2 for what that looks like).  This will take about a half hour so it’ll time perfectly with the tomatoes finishing. Apparently you don’t need to use all of the balsamic to top the salad (I did, whoops).

As soon as your tomatoes are done, remove them from the oven. Tear your mozzarella and basil, and layer them in as you add scoops of the tomatoes.  Peel the garlic and add it in too, roasted garlic is fantastic and I will fight you if you say otherwise.  Then add your balsamic and toss to coat.

This is one I cooked up on a whim, as I wanted to have something to nom on while watching the Once Upon a Time premiere last night, and frankly, it’s a pretty quick recipe to make. Hollowing out the rolls will take a little trial and error, but honestly, so long as the bottom doesn’t fall out, you’re doing just fine.

Mini Garlic and Mozzarella Bread Bowls
Makes 6

Ingredients

  • 1 six-pack of take and bake rolls (I did the French Bakery’s ciabatta rolls, the original recommends La Brea dinner, choose whatever works best for you), dethawed
  • .5 stick of butter (.25 c)
  • 6 cloves of garlic, chopped
  • 1 14.5 oz can of diced tomatoes
  • 1 T sugar
  • 1.5 c chicken stock
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 6 oz fresh mozzarella, torn small to enable melting
  • .25 c shredded parmesan

Preheat your oven to 385 (mine went to 355). The original recipe recommends thawing your rolls in the oven, but mine had been in the fridge for a day, in the freezer before that, and bought at room temp, so I think they were just fine.

In a small pot, melt your butter and cook your garlic (yes, at the same time) over medium heat, stirring occasionally for about three minutes.  Your butter should foam up as it melts. Add your tomatoes, sugar, salt and pepper and cook for another five minutes, still stirring occasionally.  Then add your chicken stock and cook for another five minutes, before bringing the mixture to a simmer.  

While the filling comes to a simmer, cut the tops off your rolls, and then hollow them out (make sure to leave at least a pinky finger’s worth of thickness on the walls and bottom).  Place them on a lined baking sheet. You can save the tops of the rolls for later if you want, for decoration and serving or additional breadiness.  I didn’t save mine, I liked the way they looked better.

Once simmering, add your mozzarella to the mixture and stir to melt.  Once melted, immediately start spooning your filling into the bread bowls (make sure the sheet is as close as possible to the pot), and sprinkle the parmesan on top.  

Bake for about seven minutes, let them cool enough to handle, and then enjoy the bready cheesy tomatoey goodness.